CASTRIES, St Lucia — The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Trade and Integration project is currently engaged in its agriculture sector development component, as stakeholders focus primarily on food and agriculture health safety through a series of national consultations.
The objective is to enhance agriculture food and health safety systems in OECS member states.
The first consultation opened in Dominica on May 12, with further engagements scheduled for Saint Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Grenada.
The OECS trade and integration project funded under the 10th EDF is a key support project for the OECS Economic Union as the region works towards one space where there is easier trade of goods and services and the free movement of persons. Hence maintaining good quality agriculture products through compliance with international standards and effective food quality surveillance will help ensure food and nutrition security and easier trading across member states of the union, minimal quarantine of food and agriculture products, a significantly low percentage of food borne illnesses associated with imported foods and enhanced consumer and investor confidence.
In light of this, Saint Lucia’s deputy director for agriculture services, Barry Innocent, welcomed this undertaking by the OECS Secretariat to conduct the series of consultations towards enhancing or upgrading agriculture health and food safety systems under the OECS Trade and Integration project.
“When I go to a supermarket or I buy from a farmer or I travel through the OECS islands and I buy something I am looking for high standards. Everybody wants wholesome nutritious food. On the news you heard about the new bird flu virus… you have the lethal yellowing in coconuts… You have all these dynamics that these workshops can speak to in some way or the other,” Innocent said.
OECS agriculture economist George Alcee has emphasized the importance of dialogue on enhancing food security because of the major contribution the sector makes economic development.
“The sector continues to play a significant role in food security, health and nutrition, providing sustainable livelihood opportunities employment creation, rural development , foreign exchange generation and preservation of the natural resource base. Patterns of regional and international consumer demand and commercial development will continue to reinforce the role of agriculture and provide opportunities for agriculture and the food industry in the region. However in order for us to seize these opportunities and maximize the benefits of global trade and to comply with international trade rules we in the region must modernize our agriculture health and food safety systems in order to protect human animal and plant health,” he said.
Alcee noted that food borne illnesses and duplication of regulatory activity are among challenges that require strategic approaches by authorities in the member states to ensure quality food security in the agriculture sector, thereby making trading easier and sustained economic development in the OECS Economic Union more achievable.
Rodinald Soomer, who heads the OECS Secretariat’s Economic Development Policy Unit said member states are committed to transforming the agriculture sector to ensure that its system for ensuring quality food security makes the region more consumer and investor friendly.
“What we have done is to bring this down to the programme level at the OECS Secretariat and we recognize that a sound agriculture health and food safety system is critical to the achievement of many of the priorities identified by OECS member states in the OECS agriculture plan of action… At the broader regional level the work being undertaken by the Caribbean agricultural health and food safety agency CAHFSA within the CARIFORUM context would facilitate the harmonization and strengthening of the legislative framework for AHFS and mechanisms for enforcement of standards which would redound to the benefit of the OECS Economic Union itself and the wider CSME,” Soomer said.
The agriculture and food sector remains an essential pillar in the social and economic development of the OECS. The strengthening and upgrading of agriculture health and food safety systems to effectively operate within the single productive space of the OECS Economic Union as well as CARIFORUM will go a long way in facilitating production trade and sustainability of all agricultural commodities.