Partners Envision Transformative Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2023

President of Guyana, Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali delivers the keynote address at the launch of CWA 2023. With him is Guyana's Agriculture Minister, Zulfikar Mustapha

President of Guyana, His Excellency Mohamed Irfaan Ali, launched the Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) on 1 September, encouraging refocused efforts and stronger collaboration to achieve the promises of Vision 25 by 2025.

The Bahamas will host the 17th CWA 9-13 October, under the theme ‘Accelerating Vision 25 by 2025’. Key regional decision-makers from both the public and private sectors will attend CWA 2023. The event will include about 40 technical sessions on animal and plant health, food safety, fisheries, research, innovation, digitization, youth and women, climate change, and trade facilitation. As is customary, there will be a trade show component of agri-businesses and services from micro, small and medium, as well as large enterprises to allow business-to-business engagements and extra-regional trading opportunities. A Special Meeting of the Council of Trade and Economic Development (COTED) – Agriculture will be held during the Week, where Ministers will address major policy issues, such as increasing agricultural production and trade, agricultural health, and food safety. 

In his keynote address at the one-hour virtual launch, President Ali said that the region was at a “significant moment where failure is not an option”. He thanked the partner agencies that are collaborating to host CWA for “keeping agriculture on the front-burner as we seek to accelerate the implementation of projects towards Vision 25 by 2025.” He described the CWA as “an important forum” to review successes and look towards the future and generate implementable actions on matters including the use of technology in the sector, youth and women in agriculture, trade and transportation, investment and product diversification.  

As Lead Head of Government in the CARICOM Quasi Cabinet with responsibility for agriculture, the President is spearheading the initiative which is aimed at reducing the region’s food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025.

“Transforming our agri food system requires that we assess and address the challenges and opportunities now confronting the region’s agriculture sector. Foremost among those challenges is the need for greater food and nutrition security,” the President said.

He pointed to the hike in food price globally and particularly in low- and middle-income nations; the increase in energy costs; the significant threat that climate change poses to food supplies; and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which has disrupted global supply chains causing food shortages and delivery delays.

Noting that the Caribbean has not been insulated from these impacts, President Ali said COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war provided a useful opportunity for the region to “seriously re-evaluate” its high dependence on imported food and to commit to reducing and reversing the extreme dependence.

“It is against this backdrop that the regional leaders have been advancing the CARICOM Agri-Food Systems Agenda and have committed to the aggressive implementation of the 25 by 2025 programme to maintain food security in the region,” he said.

He told participants at the launch that “as of 2022, as a Region, we have achieved 57 per cent of the production target towards reducing the food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025. Over the next two years, over 1.4 million metric tonnes of commodities must be produced to reach the 25 by 2025 target. We have the political will and more importantly we have the capacity within CARICOM to achieve this and to produce quality food for our people”.

Transformative event

The Hon. Clay Sweeting, then Agriculture Minister of The Bahamas, used the opportunity to extend a warm welcome to stakeholders who will visit The Bahamas for the week of activities. He encouraged attendees to make “CWA 2023 a truly transformative event.”

“Through this weeklong event, we aim to enhance collaboration, knowledge sharing and networking among Caribbean countries. By working together, we can seize the opportunities presented by modern technologies, climate-smart practices and market-driven approaches to agriculture,” Mr. Sweeting said.

In her remarks, CARICOM Secretary-General, Dr. Carla Barnett said CWA 2023 is a pivotal event that will seek to put policy into action to effectively build economic resilience and drive inclusive socio-economic development of CARICOM.

“This virtual launch is the precursor to the first live staging of the CWA in six years. I express the Community’s gratitude to this year’s host, the Government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, and to the institutions and members of the various planning committees, for their combined efforts. This collaboration augurs well for the sector. We need all hands on deck to transform our agriculture into a sustainable, productive, competitive and food secure block, with healthy, nutritious foods for everyone. We must remain focused on reducing the Region’s growing food import bill, and on leveraging the agricultural sector to enhance and empower our women and young people, and our rural communities,” the Secretary-General said.

Director-General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Dr. Manuel Otero alluded to the “unprecedented challenges” to food systems” including the pandemic, the war and climate-related phenomenon which have catapulted food security to the “highest urgency and priority”.

IICA’s commitment to the region remains strong and unwavering, he said, offering its member countries multi-disciplinary support and increased resource allocation to the Caribbean.

Assistant Director-General and Regional Representatives for Latin America and the Caribbean, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), Mr. Mario Lubetkin also referred to the food insecurity that the Caribbean is facing. He said the FAO recognizes the “extraordinary efforts” CARICOM is taking to implement the food systems strategy to reduce the food import bill.

“Our attendance at this 17th Session of Caribbean Week of Agriculture demonstrates our commitment to being a reliable and supportive partner for the Caribbean in the efforts to improve agrifood systems in order to: adopt innovative solutions to address persistent challenges to the productivity and competitiveness of value chains; build community and national resilience, including investing in climate change adaptation; better monitor and target vulnerable populations and ensure no one is left behind,” he said.

Representative and Country Director, World Food Programme, Mr. Regis Chapman , placed the importance of the CWA in the context of the rise in food insecurity in the region.

“…the Caribbean Week of Agriculture is extremely important for the region. it’s a great platform to really advocate for the vision of 25 by 2025 collaborating with stakeholders across the entire value chain. Now at the WFP Caribbean Multi Country Office, we’re in technical discussions with a number of partners from the CARICOM secretariat to national governments and we’re looking forward to the action steps that will emerge from this year’s Caribbean Week of Agriculture,” Mr. Chapman said.

He gave the WFP’s commitment to ongoing support for CARICOM, the Vision 25 by 25 and Caribbean Food Security. “We look forward to strengthening food systems through our expertise in supply chain management and food system strengthening, which, coupled with our work in strengthening social protection and disaster management systems can bolster the 25 by 25 initiative.”

Mr. Joseph Cox, CARICOM Assistant Secretary-General, Economic Integration, Innovation and Development, provided an overview of the CWA, pointing out that this year, a lunch-time conversation on 9 October on the 25 by 2025 Initiative will precede the week of activities. The conversation will be held under the theme ‘From Crisis to Opportunity: Reshaping the Food Security Landscape of the Caribbean within the 25 by 2025’.

CWA 2023 will continue to award Youth Farmer of the Year and Farmer of the Year. The Trade Show will boast about 40 booths that will exhibit agricultural produce and technologies with the aim of linking buyers and suppliers, particularly for The Bahamas tourism market. A new feature at the exhibition will be a culinary booth to showcase how local produce could be integrated into the food system and used to generate economic returns, Mr. Cox said.

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