Regional farmers’ body in agriculture, trade thrust

Regional agriculture organization, Caribbean Farmers Network (Carfan), is aiming to “practically” develop the agriculture production and marketing potential of Caricom territories, including the development of intra-regional partnerships in agriculture.

Speaking last evening at the opening ceremony of a production and marketing workshop at the Princess Hotel, Providence, East Bank Demerara, which starts today, Regional Coordinator of Carfan Jethro Greene said the workshop aims to create a mini-regional food production and marketing plan, which will lead to a regional pilot project. The latter will start a process of trade on a selected amount of agricultural products in the region.

He said the project is one in which “we are reinventing the wheel because we already have been in the field so it’s building on what we have”.

He said that if the ability of the regional agricultural system is to progress, there is need for more organisation of trade within the region, adding that the current trade arrangement for farm produce in the region puts the farmers, more so the small farmers, at a disadvantage.

Greene said “there is room for everyone in it” as the plan will ensure that produce reaches the international markets via established Caribbean facilitating territories such as Belize, which has a healthy trade arrangement with Miami-based companies.

He said the plan will ensure that the Caribbean hotel industry utilizes regional farm products and ensure that such products are readily accessible.

He noted that at present there is a major effort around the world by countries to have citizens use products which are produced closer to home and as such Caribbean territories should ensure that this is undertaken.

Greene, who has been a member of Carfan for a number of years, said the organiaation is working to ensure that agriculture is undertaken at the home level and at schools, adding that where the latter is concerned a number of secondary schools in the region have disbanded their agricultural programmes.

He said the future of agriculture in the region remains bright, adding, “we need to ensure that we use the breathing space we already have; agriculture must never again be put on the back burner of countries in the region.” Greene stated that several COTED members have advocated for agriculture to be placed on the bottom tier of their development programmes but said this will “never happen once we get the backing of all regional organisations in agriculture.”

Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud, who gave the feature address, supported the sentiments expressed by Greene and he noted that in the past there have been numerous workshops and similar events which have been geared at advancing agriculture but have not lived up to expectations. He said that Carfan appeared ready to carry out the practical plans alluded to by Greene.

Persaud noted that at the moment agriculture and food production is being given prominence by nations around the world against the backdrop of several factors including climate change and if organizations and farming groups are better prepared to work towards achieving their goals, the region will see an improved agriculture sector.

Persaud advocated that one of the main aims of regional agriculture bodies should be to break the barriers which exist in trade within Caricom, noting “it is easier to export to Canada and the US than to export to Caricom territories.” He expressed hope that Carfan will “put pressure” on the regional governments   to break those barriers, adding that the time is ripe to develop trade within the region.

He said too that Guyana has a critical role to play in the regional food insecurity status which may exist in the region and the nation stands ready to cooperate with other Caricom territories in maintaining agriculture as a number one economic earner.

Earlier, Chairman of Carfan Jamaican senator Norman Grant told the gathering that there was the need to maximize on production in the region given the large amounts of arable lands which exist. He listed Guyana as one of several countries which has available land for agricultural purposes.

He said the organisation is looking at several key factors which will be addressed at the workshop including the participation of the youth in agriculture, as well as a unified position as regards the reduction of the Common External Tariff in the regional trade framework.

He said that if the latter is reduced “it will reverse …damage to the sector.”

The workshop, which will include presentations from farmers groups, ministries of agriculture in the region, international donor and technical cooperation agencies as well as extra-regional buyers of agricultural produce, will conclude on Friday.

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