Members of the Commonwealth, among them various Caribbean countries, must intensify joint efforts to guarantee agricultural resilience and food security for their people. This was the view of experts from this community of nations, who were meeting at the Home of Sustainable Agriculture of the Americas, the pavilion that the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) has installed at COP27, which began this week in Egypt.
The Caribbean is one of the world’s regions most vulnerable to climate change, due to the greater frequency and intensity of natural disasters; for example, hurricanes and floods, in addition to rising sea levels. This has created new challenges for small farmers who are the ones safeguarding the fragile food security in these countries, IICA said in a release.
“Commonwealth Countries: Growing Together for Climate Resilience and Food and Nutrition Security” was the title of the panel discussion, which attracted attention amidst the vast number of activities taking place at the Summit.
The Commonwealth is a community of nations from various regions of planet that share historical ties with Great Britain and seek to foster international cooperation in the political and economic spheres.
Participating in the discussion were Clay Sweeting, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources of The Bahamas; Patricia Scotland, Secretary General of the Commonwealth; and Harry Clark, Director of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Center (NZAGRC).
Curt Delice, IICA Special Affairs Coordinator for the Caribbean and IICA Representative in Suriname, was the moderator. The Director General of IICA, Manuel Otero, gave the opening remarks, stressing the urgency of focusing on boosting the resilience of Caribbean agriculture, which has been battered by extreme weather phenomena.
Sweeting, a former fisherman, indicated that The Bahamas imports between 90 and 95% of the food consumed by its people, compelling it to invest more than $1 billion each year.
He also spoke of the problem posed by the lack of generational succession in agriculture in his country.
“Eighty percent of our farmers are older than sixty years of age. We have lost a generation for food production and we urgently need to design public policies to close this gap. Another disadvantage is that while most of the population lives on the island of New Province, almost all of the agriculture takes place on other islands in The Bahamas”, said the Minister.
Sweeting underscored the importance of sharing among Commonwealth countries, in particular, with respect to the incorporation of innovation and technology in agriculture, to attract new generations. He warned that, “The reality is that young people do not get involved and we must focus on solving this problem, because agriculture is not just about earning an income, but about guaranteeing food security. Today, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has realized the key importance of agriculture”.
Patricia Scotland felt that agriculture must be made attractive for young people and that this can be achieved by accelerating the transition towards digitalization.
She maintained that, “It is very important for the 56 countries of the Commonwealth to work together. Food security is built within the limits of each country, but we must share information about what each country is producing so that we can complement each other”.
Scotland added that agriculture plays a vital economic and social role for Caribbean countries, employing 9% of the population and generating 14% of the gross domestic product (GDP).
Clark recounted New Zealand’s experience in reducing the environmental impact of agriculture and felt that her country could join efforts with the Caribbean to boost the resilience of food production to climate change.
“Politics and science often do not mix well. In many countries, they have not managed to speak the same language. Science is complex and it must be translated to make it somewhat understandable. Scientists must come out of their ivory towers and politicians must be guided by evidence”, said Clark.
The experts stressed that not only is the development of innovations and technology critical, so too is the need to ensure that solutions are local and that they incorporate ancestral knowledge.
The Home of Sustainable Agriculture of the Americas pavilion that IICA has installed at COP27 is a space devoted to sustainable agriculture and the agrifood systems of the Americas. It showcases the key role of the agriculture sector in providing climate solutions and global food security, while also highlighting the contributions of farmers and other sector players in climate change adaptation and mitigation.