GIS:-Intra-Regional Food Trade will Reduce the Food Import Bill, Generate Employment, and Encourage Healthier Lifestyles.
Food standard certification, market analysis, and agricultural technology are areas earmarked for growth in the region’s agriculture sector.
Recommendations to take the OECS Agri-Export Initiative to the next level were reviewed by regional agriculture stakeholders, at the fourth meeting of the OECS Council of Agricultural Ministers, held in St Vincent and the Grenadines on July 25th 2017.
The OECS shipping initiative aims to complement existing regional trade by positioning the sub region to capitalize on new opportunities and better access underserved markets within the region and internationally.
Minister for Agriculture in St Vincent and the Grenadines Hon Saboto Caesar said a key aspect of the way forward is to ensure that agriculture stakeholders participate at the highest levels.
“We expect the private sector to come on board to assist in moving commodities intra regionally. We have a very large food import bill in the intra region and careful analysis and study has to continue to determine where we are going to move goods,” said Minister Caesar.
Minister Caesar also elaborated on the benefits of a trade arrangement between the government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines with neighboring Grenada, with hope that a similar model can be replicated amongst OECS member states.
“We benefit significantly each year from moving cattle between the islands, we want to ensure that the positives of this bilateral relationship are placed on a multilateral footing for the benefit of stakeholders in the agricultural sectors of the sub region,” added Caesar.
OECS Director General, Dr. Didacus Jules, said the Agri-Export Initiative has provided a focal point that will lead to the full implementation of the OECS Agriculture Plan of Action (APOA).
“Our food import bill in the OECS stands at half a billion US dollars and, if you think of it, the import substitution possibilities of that market are huge. Import substitution would mean foreign exchange savings for our countries; it would mean greater employment in rural areas, especially for young people and women; and it will mean healthier lifestyles, because it is the imported foods that are producing the non-communicable diseases,” said Dr. Jules.
Dr. Jules also spoke on the initiative’s priority to engage young people in agriculture through innovative projects and the use of new technology.
“Great effort has been placed on finding ways in which we can encourage and stimulate young farmers to get involved in trade, so that we can create a new era of prosperity in this region,” he added.
Private sector representative, Jai Rampersad, General Manager of Bunny Imports and Exports Ltd, delivered a presentation to the Council of Agricultural Ministers that outlined key areas that need to be addressed if the sub region is to maximize the opportunities available through the Agri-Export Initiative.
Rampersad’s presentation centered on food standard certification (GAP, HACCAP and securing organic certification); a detailed analysis of markets for agricultural commodities; the adoption of an aggregator model (a draft model was proposed for the consideration of the Council);
greater adoption of technology (specifically those that can prolong produce shelf life); the and establishment of a unified OECS brand.
The OECS Council of Agriculture Ministers welcomed these suggestions and recommended further discussion on support systems to complement the new model, which include mechanisms to ensure information sharing and a review of the general approach to crop production in the sub region.
Minister Caesar expects to see outcomes of the meeting begin to materialize in the coming months.