Agriculture Ministers seeking to lower subregion’s import bill
August 4, 2017

Agriculture Ministers seeking to lower subregion’s import bill

The OECS production, marketing and shipping initiative is the newest point of action for Agriculture Ministers in their quest to lower the subregion’s food import bill.

This initiative was part of the discussion at the OECS Fourth Council of Ministers of Agriculture, which was held on Tuesday at the National Insurance Services (NIS) building in Kingstown.

It entails trade among islands of the subregion being facilitated through a maritime transportation system.

Ashley Cain, chief agricultural officer, told SEARCHLIGHT that St Vincent and the Grenadines’ (SVG) agricultural sector faces challenges as it relates to marketing and ensuring that there is sustained capacity in the markets it trades with.

“The Caribbean itself is a very important market to us,” Cain said. “Initiatives like this one that we are launching today are a very important part of the process of ensuring that farmers and people involved in the agricultural industry make the best use of the opportunities available based on knowledge and capacity to deliver consistently.”

Arthur Nibbs, Antigua and Barbuda’s Agriculture Minister, said that no country is truly independent until it can feed itself.  And he believes that the initiative will move the OECS in this direction.

“Over the past, our region has been treated as what you would say a dumping ground for foods that would not be able to pass for Canada, America or somewhere else, but they find their way into the Caribbean,” he said.

“We are hoping that going forward, we can correct that, in terms of the standards and the quality of food we would have available for our people.”

Under the new initiative, trade relationships between regional markets, like Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, will be strengthened. It is the hope to expand to extra-regional and international markets, as well.

Jai Rampersaud, a representative of Trinidad’s Bunny Imports and Exports, noted that as global populations increase, so does the demand for food.

He said that the initiative was best poised to help the region capitalize on this opportunity.

“We certainly can see and start to capitalize on international market opportunity by developing products that have consistent supply, that meet the international market requirement through certification and even doing other innovative products, based on our natural Caribbean flair, such as arrowroot, moringa and so many other value added products with Caribbean brand and product development,” Rampersaud said.