(by Kwesi Isles)
Grenada’s Minister of Agriculture Roland Bhola says regional governments are aware that they need to put more effort into agriculture if it is to take its place as a driver of economic development in CARICOM.
The issue was highlighted at a news conference Friday following a meeting of CARICOM’s ministerial Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) in Guyana.
Bhola said the region was looking to use agriculture as the vehicle to transform the regional economies but it was going to take more effort than had been so far been exerted.
“We have toiled with the fact that over the years we have built up a (food) import bill of US$5B and climbing. The FAO recently completed a study that showed us country by country what our import bill was item by item. I think that would have brought the realisation to most of us we are really doing an injustice to the region in general but also to our individual countries,” the COTED Chairman said.
Bhola added that a tie in to the issue of food security was that of nutrition.
“We have recognised for a long time now the utilisation of more locally fresh produce would have greater health effect for our people in our region and I think the Ministries of Health would have recognised that and at their meetings would have brought that forward.”
According to him, there were enough known reasons for the region’s people and governments to buy in to making agriculture a critical pillar in the drive to development.
Bhola added that the various governments realise that they need to put more financing towards their ministries of agriculture, facilitate more sharing of research findings, greater use of science and technology and enhanced productivity.
However, the minister noted that agriculture had not been without its challenges which would not disappear with a greater flow of inputs.