The head of the Caribbean regional integration mechanism identified the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) as a strategic partner that can assist in achieving these objectives.
Jules participated in the Thirty-eighth Regular Meeting of the Executive Committee of IICA, an organisation that promotes rural development in the Americas. During the meeting, which was held in Costa Rica, he and Manuel Otero, Director General of the Institute, signed a technical cooperation agreement aimed at strengthening value chains and agricultural health and food safety systems, as well as fostering the use of biotechnology in the Caribbean, among other critical issues for the agriculture sector.
“As small states, we tend to be at a disadvantage in multilateral agreements, but we have been organising ourselves in order to prepare an action plan for agriculture in the region. Our food import bill has reached almost one billion dollars, and we must lower this cost,” stated Jules.
The OECS is an inter-governmental organisation dedicated to economic harmonisation and integration, protection of human and legal rights, and the encouragement of good governance among its ten member countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Martinique.
The head of the OECS, who holds a Ph.D. in Education from the University of Wisconsin and is a well-known advocate for the Caribbean’s creative and intellectual potential, emphasised the fact that the objective to reduce the annual food import bill of approximately one billion dollars extends beyond an economic scope.
“This is not merely a matter of paying less, because we know that food security plays a very important role in combating poverty,” stated Jules, who indicated that agriculture could become a valuable source of jobs and prosperity.
The officer added that agricultural development in the Caribbean would also have a very positive impact on public health, given the fact that much of the food that is imported is directly related to certain chronic illnesses. “In fact, we have one of the highest rates of diabetes and high blood pressure, which points directly to our eating habits,” he explained.
Toward a more resilient agriculture
Jules mentioned that agricultural activity in the Caribbean, one of the regions of the world that is most vulnerable to hurricanes and other extreme climatic events, generates difficulties and challenges for the countries. As the region with the highest rate of natural disasters in the world, the Caribbean must be on the front line of the battle against climate change and efforts to mitigate its effects.
“There is a great deal of work to be done with respect to the development of more resilient production methods as well as the introduction of new technologies and crop varieties that are better able to withstand the effects of climate change,” stated the Director General of the OECS, when discussing one of the issues addressed by the agreement signed with IICA, which seeks to increase resilience in the face of climate change.
“We do not live in a bubble,” stated Jules in response to skepticism about the Caribbean’s capacity to produce its own food.
“We acknowledge the fact that there is a great deal of interdependence in the world, so we are not claiming that we will no longer import food. What we are saying is that every society must carry out its duty with respect to food security, and that means not relying entirely on external sources. This also involves optimizing what nature has given us,” he concluded.
IICA is the specialised agency for agriculture in the Inter-American system, with a mission to encourage, promote and support its 34 Member States in their efforts to achieve agricultural development and rural well-being through international technical cooperation of excellence.
José Alfredo Alpízar
Press and Outreach Coordinator at IICA