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PM Spencer Week of Agriculture

May 29, 2013

PM Spencer's address to delegates attending the 11th Caribbean Week of Agriculture which took place in Antigua & Barbuda from 14-20 October 2012.

Let me first take this opportunity to welcome all of our regional and international partners to Antigua and Barbuda and to this the I11th Caribbean Week of Agriculture. Some may say that the weather we have been experiencing in Antigua and Barbuda is ideal for our farmers, while some may differ. However I must say that the recent weather conditions have lifted Antigua and Barbuda out of the threat of a water shortage, which is of significant benefit to our farmers.
Ladies and Gentlemen: The world we are living in today is quickly changing with numerous challenges for governments.
The changes require all of us to adjust the way we do business and the way we live.

Trends in food producing nations suggest that we would need to produce considerable more to meet the demands of a fast growing world
population. Recent analyses and estimates indicate that about one billion people throughout the world are suffering from chronic hunger and malnutrition.

Given the current rate of population growth, world food production needs to be increased by 70 percent by the year 2050. This is a staggering prediction which is exacerbated by issues such as climate change, increasing prices of food and inputs, loss of biodiversity, natural disasters, dwindling resources and pressure from invasive species.

Food security and nutrition security therefore becomes one of the most critical concern for not only governments but for us all.
A quick look at a few selected characteristics of the region's food sector demonstrate how urgent action is needed.

In the CARICOM region the food supply is heavily dependent on imports as it approaches USD 5 billion in value. lnputs used by our farmers are expensive and mostly imported. In the case of poultry some 90 percent of the inputs are imported and even the local water that is used is treated with imported chemicals;

The cost of moving produce in the intra regional trade is high and fraught with non tariff barriers (NTB's); and our small population translates into a small demand in which the consumption of locally grown fresh food is decreasing. In Antigua and Barbuda we have seen increased local production in the last 3 years but con-comitantly we suffered increased spoilage and there was no appreciable decrease in the imports.
Generally speaking, the scale of production and the average level of productivity are low and were it not for locally "artificial prices" of fresh vegetables, most of our farmers who use high cost imported technological inputs such as seeds, fertilzers, agrochemicals and irrigation equipment would not be able to realize a surplus on their operations. The margins are small and investors shy away from the sector.

Despite this, however, our producers along the entire value chain, men, women and of course, youth have persisted and shown resilience in very vulnerable circumstances. I wish to congratulate, salute and encourage them as we cannot stop producing food.

Ladies and Gentlemen. To add to the complexity of sustainable food production and business practices, the sector has to comply with several conventions, treaties, protocols, food safety and sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) issues, cope with exotic pests and diseases, such as Lethal yellowing, Red Palm Mite, Giant African Snail, Lionfish to name a few. This is the reality we face at the National level. We depend heavily on our development partners to collaborate with us in the administration and management of the sector.

The Caribbean Week of Agriculture represents a collaborative effort by the Alliance (FAO, llCA, CARDI, CARICOM and CTA) in conjunction with the Ministries of Agriculture, several regional networks such as CAFY, CANROP, CARAPN, CAFAN, ACM and regional agencies such as CCCCC, UWI, CABA, CPA, CROSQ, all joining forces in discussions, workshops and networking.

The focus on Climate Change must be applauded as the issues relating to water management, production under protective cover and now the conservation, utilization and exchange of genetic resources have been deliberated on. The policy briefs and action plans are extremely usefUI in the formulation of policies and strategies for the sector. The discussions on Youth, Gender, Media and Science, and Value chains are all very timely as we move to modernize the sector and make it more efficient and attractive.

I however, would like to make special note of the need to include a standard item on the agenda for the discussion of the impact of the CWA's efforts annually. This is now the 11th CWA and I am told that a wide range of topics and themes with specific action plans have been tackled in the past. This type of discussion and interaction would serve as an evaluation and incorporate an element of continuity and add value to the activities. It would certainly present the sense of accountability which should facilitate extension and expansion of sponsorship in the broader sense. It is true that the Alliance efforts are concentrated in a particular niche along the agricultural development chain and it is very important to recognize the other links.

In this regard I wish to challenge the organizations present here today to make pragmatic recommendations which can be the precursor to the identification of resources (both internal and external) to realize some of the results that can emanate from the policy briefs and action plans. The Technical Center for Rural Cooperation (CTA) must be commended for its continued sterling support to the meetings and of course the other Alliance members, FAO, CARDI, llCA, CARICOM Secretariat and the Ministries.

Ladies and Gentlemen:
It would be remiss of me if I do not address the other half of the week's activities.

The regional Ministrial and Institutional meetings bring inclusivity to the week's proceedings and present the opportunity for serious and sensitive dialogue among the regions decision making bodies in Agriculture on initiatives such as the Jagdeo Initiative, the Liliendaal Declaration, and resource mobilisation. The performance of the regional entities can to some extent arguably be related to the support received from the National systems and vice versa.
I would urge the COTED, the Alliance and the OECS Ministers group to give careful consideration to the outputs of the weeks deliberations and facilitate their meaningful translation into positive actions at the National levels. Due caution should also be observed in you attempts to harmonize when in some cases alignment might better serve the special peculiarities of a particular member state.
The 11th CWA is unique, there was a launch, there was a church service and I am told that there is going to be a beauty pageant and some distinctive entertainment. I trust that your deliberations wll be fruitful and the olltputs can contribute significantly to the advancement of the sector and its related and allied agencies.

Thank you very much.