July 6, 2020

The pandemic highlights the urgency of strengthening agriculture in the Caribbean



The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) indicated that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic show that Caribbean countries must modify their current model of economic development, highly dependent on the arrival of tourists and food imports.

In a virtual seminar, IICA Director General Emeritus, Chelston Brathwaite, spoke with former Saint Lucia Minister of Energy James Fletcher and both agreed that the new coronavirus has exposed five of the main vulnerabilities in the Caribbean.

The vulnerabilities are related to the impacts of climate change – evidenced by droughts and more hurricanes -, the level of debt in the countries, the high rates of chronic non-communicable diseases -such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer-, dependence on tourism and food insecurity.

“In this coronavirus situation we are already in the danger zone, so we have to look now for opportunities, what can arise later,” said Brathwaite, in the last of the webinars organized by IICA, in which they were analyzed. scenarios after the pandemic for agrifood systems in the Americas.

The speakers pointed out that for the transformation of the development model in the Caribbean, the connection of the agricultural and tourist sectors is crucial.

As Fletcher explained, “The crisis has exposed how fragile our development agendas are. In 10 of the Caribbean countries tourism contributes more than 25% to national GDP, and in the Eastern Caribbean states the contribution ranges from 30% to more than 80%. ”

With these figures, tourism is the hardest hit sector and will be one of the slowest to recover, which will have an impact on government revenues, employment and families.

The specialists stated that it is imperative to modernize agriculture through the use of renewable technologies and energy, promote trade, regional integration and market intelligence, make better use of arable land and water, invest in research and advance in agricultural insurance and farmers’ access to microfinance.

“We have to revive our agricultural sector, appreciate and understand the contribution it can bring to development and food security, as well as the opportunities it has to have fewer imports, rejuvenate our economies, stimulate new jobs and companies in food production and improve our products exchanging imported foods for more nutritious and local ones, ”said Brathwaite.

The authorities also highlighted that improvements in Caribbean intraregional trade are required, since countries have the productive capacity and natural resources to do so. For example, Guyana, Belize and Suriname could be the regional food baskets and thus could reduce food imports by at least 5%.

“We have problems transporting food from one part of the Caribbean to another, there must be regional transport systems; We need an information system for all countries to know what is being produced, where, who has it and at what price, a regional food security fund that responds to our reality, “said Brathwaite, who was Director General of IICA from 2002 to 2010.

Due to the drop in tourism and the drop in oil prices, specialists said that economic activity in the Caribbean is expected to contract 6.2% this year, in the best case scenario. The most pessimistic outlook is for it to contract 15%.

Authorities indicated that remittances will also be affected by the pandemic. These provide the Caribbean with some 15,000 million dollars annually, especially from the United States.

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