‘Unsung heroes’ recognised for producing quality food for Caribbean’s populace

Awardees, Citerina Atkins (l) and Deles Warrington
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Citerina Atkins could not have had a more fitting birthday present, given her passion for agriculture.

She became the first youth to be named Young Farmer of the Year, a CARICOM-Caribbean Development Bank award that was inaugurated during Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) 2021. As fate would have it, the award was presented on her birthday, 8 October, during the Closing Ceremony of the CWA.

Co-founder and Managing Director of Gerty’s Agro-Produce, Atkins left the corporate sector to farm as she recognised the potential of the agriculture sector and the need for more young persons to become involved in it, and by extension, the development of the economy. She grows a variety of crops including Irish and sweet potatoes, and scotch bonnet peppers, employs persons in her community, and sells her produce locally and internationally. Her aim is to move into agro-processing

“I ventured into agriculture for the business aspect of it, but when I’m in the farm and see my produce go from seed to fruit, I know I’m moving closer to self-actualisation,” the Jamaican youth said.

In her acceptance speech, she said she was pleased to accept “this prestigious” award and humbled to be recognised by her peers in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.

She’s an advocate for youth involvement in the sector, pointing out that it was “her duty to ensure that young people see themselves as successful businessmen and women when they look at farmers, and I see myself as leading by example”.

She paid tribute to the 4-H Club of Jamaica which nominated her, and which she said played “an active role” in her development in the agriculture sector. She also singled out the Jamaica Network of Rural Women Producers and the Caribbean Network of Rural Women Producers which she said continued to support her journey.

“Through those organisations, I will continue to advocate for increased involvement of women and youth in agriculture and for them to form meaningful partnerships across the region as this is needed to achieve sustainability, and consequently, a strong food system. This, I believe, will ensure our region’s food security and nutrition, and by extension achieving the Sustainable Development Goal,” she said.

Her passion and drive have earned her other accolades as well. Last year, she was the recipient of the The Prime Minister’s National Youth Award of Excellent in the category of Agriculture and Agro-processing. She also won and an award for Entrepreneur creating the most impact within the community presented by Young Women/ Men of Purpose in collaboration with Entrepreneurs Across Borders funded by US Embassy, Kingston.

Farmer of the year

Atkins was one of two farmers who were recognised for their outstanding contributions to agriculture in the Caribbean. Deles Warrington of Dominica received the CARICOM Farmer of the Year Award.

Warrington is a commercial banana farmer in Calibishe, Dominica, who also plants other crops including avocadoes, root crops such as yams and sweet potatoes, pineapples and onions. He also rears goats. Described as a stalwart, resilient banana farmer, Warrington has been involved in several agri-based organisations and is credited with providing technical advice and support to other farmers.

In his acceptance speech, the Farmer of the Year said he felt most honoured and appreciative of the award. He said that in spite of the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was clear that agriculture “is alive and well”.

“Though we have gone through some serious challenges in our Region … especially in Dominica where we have had (Hurricanes) Erika and Maria, and before that David … which did a lot of damage to our agriculture sector, agriculture has been coming back on stream, and it is because of our farmers who are resilient. They are people who are strong and always want to move forward, working in the soil,” Warrington said.

He extended congratulations to Atkins, encouraged other young people to get involved in farming, and pointed out that “you can make a living from agriculture”.

Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit congratulated Warrington. He recalled that for many years, the farmer was a true example of industry, determination and innovation in agriculture, and his success underscored the critical role of agriculture in strengthening food systems, feeding families and communities, enhancing livelihoods and creating employment.

“We thank Mr. Warrington for his outstanding contribution to the development of Dominica’s agriculture sector and wish him continued success,” PM Skerrit said in a Facebook post.

While the week was devoted to all things agriculture, with transforming the region’s food systems as the focus, CWA participants took the opportunity during the closing ceremony to publicly thank farmers for their work in producing and providing quality food for the Region’s populace.

Mr. Audley Shaw, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister of Jamaica, announced the awards and pointed out that they were indicative of “our gratitude for the outstanding role that our regional farmers play in contributing to our goal of food security and sustainability”.

“Every day, we are reminded of the quality and the quantity of our food; of the unconditional work they put in; the blood, sweat and tears to ensure that they produce and provide food for us in our individual countries and across the Region. As we express our most gratitude to our farmers, I take this opportunity to say that the future of agriculture rests on climate smart technologies, agri-smart technology, export expansion and our young, vibrant farmers…,” he said.

Involving more youth in the agriculture sector was also a message that Mr. Isaac Solomon, Vice President, Operations of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) brought to the ceremony. Drawing youth to agriculture was a priority for transforming the sector through innovation, technology and creative thinking, and in so doing, contribute to addressing the region’s food security challenge.

He said the CDB, a CARICOM Associate Institution, was actively exploring facilitating the increased participation of youth in agriculture, through a “marriage between our agricultural sector policy and strategy, and our youth policy and operational strategy”.

He conceded that there was much work to be done but assured the region that the CDB would lend support through financing, technical assistance and training.

Unsung heroes

Mr. Joseph Cox, Assistant Secretary-General, Trade and Economic Integration at the CARICOM Secretariat said the inaugural awards represented “our tribute to our hard working farmers of our Community who have shared so much, sacrificed so much and indeed have been faced with immense challenges ranging from pestilence, issues of drought, treating with the ravages of climate change”.

Ms. Beverly Best, Director of External and Institutional Cooperation of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), extended gratitude to “all farmers who continue to contribute to the development of a robust agriculture food system in the Caribbean and ensuring that agriculture remains a driving force in our region’s economy”.

She added that through the two prestigious awards, the Caribbean region had recognised farmers who were unsung heroes and who contributed significantly to food security and economic development through the various linkages with other sections of the economy

“To you our young, vibrant and innovative farmers, we implore you to always remember the words of Thomas Jefferson, and I quote ‘Agriculture is a wisest pursuit, because it will, in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness’. It is therefore most fitting that these awards be presented as we culminate a week of activities premised on ensuring the development and prosperity of the Caribbean farmers. IICA wishes to underscore its commitment to supporting its member states in the Caribbean to assume stronger ownership of the transformative processes to be the architects of achieving a more resilient and sustainable food system whilst at the same time embracing the ideals of multilateralism,” she said.

Ms. Vermaran Extavour, International Value Chain Expert and Project Coordinator of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations highlighted the need to “consider the youth in all that we do”. She congratulated the awardees who she described as “exemplars”. The FAO, she said, would do all it could to promote them and their approaches.

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