April 2, 2015
OECS looking to reduce food import bill by half

One of the many goals of the inaugural meeting of the Organization of East Caribbean States (OECS) Council of Ministers of Agriculture was to set the stage to cut the region’s large and growing import bill in half.

During the opening ceremony of the event that took place last Friday, here in St Vincent, {{more}}OECS general director, Dr Didacus Jules revealed that as at 2011, the OECS food import bill had doubled in almost 10 years, standing at US$473 million.

This, Jules said, accounted for almost 20 per cent of total import of goods into the sub region.

“What we hope to achieve in this first ministerial session since the establishment of OECS economic union, is a clear agreement on the specific goals which we must aim to achieve and the joint actions into which member states will channel combined efforts so as to register the maximum social benefit for citizens in our single economic and financial space over the next three to five years,” the director general said.

Jules urged ministers to consider the positive impacts on a number of areas including value added to the national income, the gross domestic product, the nutrition status, reduced healthcare expenditure and creation of jobs in rural communities, if the OECS were able to reduce the food import bill by half.

“The disturbing reality is that we have become net food importing countries with some countries importing in 2011… as high as 95 per cent of their food and the lowest importation bill in the OECS standing at an unacceptable 55 per cent,” he said.

“Once we can achieve this in the short term, the next three years, then we would have set the stage for making a fundamental impact on reducing poverty and positioning our farmers and agri entrepreneurs to start penetrating the export market. I know three years might sound like a short time to achieve such ambitious targets. The reality is that for too long, we have been doing small initiatives, pilot initiatives, hoping to achieve results. Now the crisis that we face requires bold action, ambitious targets and decisive political action. The first arena of penetration is our very own OECS region. We must take back our market and reassume the elemental responsibility to be able to feed ourselves.”