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Caribbean says no to 'one-size-fits-all' agri strategy

Wants FAO to cease lumping region with Latin America

BY PETER RICHARDS

Tuesday, May 13, 2014    

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SANTIAGO, Chile (CMC) — When it comes to dealing with the impact of climate change on the agricultural sector, Caribbean countries are letting it be known that the "one-size-fits-all" strategy is not for them.

In fact, as they emerged from a closed door meeting with the director general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Dr José Graziano da Silva last Thursday, representatives of the Caribbean delegations said that was the message conveyed to the head of the United Nations body.

"We have requested the FAO to deal with the Caribbean in a differentiated manner rather than lump us together with Latin America and the Caribbean," Guyana's Agriculture Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).

"Whenever that happens we get pushed aside as small states and we believe that (as) small vulnerable states our special vulnerability to climate change should be taken into consideration," he added.

And as they made their way back to their respective countries on Friday, the Caribbean delegations remain convinced that "we have put forward a very strong position with respect to climate change...and the response was very positive from the director general because we all agree that climate change is going to play a very significant part in how we look at what we would call the new agriculture".

St Vincent and the Grenadines National Mobilisation and Social Development Minister Frederick Stephenson said that the region had proposed that there be more studies regarding the impact of climate change on the Caribbean as well as "proposing the implementation of more projects geared towards mitigation of the effects of climate change on our region".

The FAO head was told by the Caribbean delegations that the region was experiencing heavy rains as well as long dry spells, a combination that is having a great impact on the agricultural sector.

Ashton Stanley, a senior government official in St Kitts-Nevis said that without adequate forage for animal production and adequate water for crop production, agriculture in the true sense is being minimised.

"The intensity of rainfall is greater, the duration may not be longer but the intensity is greater and what we have found is that with these increased rainfall, we are losing a lot of the soil...which is of course one of our most precious natural resources that actually drive agricultural production," he told CMC.

The FAO has noted that while Latin America and Caribbean countries have increased their agricultural, forestry and fishery production at rates above the global average over the past decade, they also face serious problems of soil degradation, water depletion and pollution, deforestation, environmental sustainability threats and increased risks associated with climate change.

The FAO held its 33rd regional conference that brought together agriculture ministers from the 33 Latin America and Caribbean countries with delegates underscoring the importance of promoting a sustainable system of food production, based on greater role of the families and better prepared to cope with the effects of climate change in agriculture.

Among the topics discussed during the three-day conference, that ended on Friday, were the challenges for sustainable development and adaptation to climate change, governance for food and nutrition security as well as the prospects for production and food trade in Latin America and the Caribbean.

An FAO document acknowledged that 20 years after the Rio Summit, Latin America and the Caribbean is in a better position to achieve sustainable development given the progress that has been made in reducing poverty, malnutrition and hunger and increasing food production.

But it noted that the region is facing increasingly significant situations of change, including the need to adjust food production and consumption patterns, the ethical commitment to eradicate poverty, the urgency of mitigating emissions and adapting to climate change.

Meanwhile, da Silva acknowledged that in the Caribbean the inherent challenges to the agricultural sector is that most of the region comprises small island states and as a result agriculture needs to be a "very protected sector" given that it is also affected by climate change which is also being blamed for the region facing a greater spread of diseases.

Deep Ford, FAO coordinator for the Caribbean sub-region, said that the impact of climate change on countries like Barbados and the nine-member Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) "is enormous and this is why risk management is one of the major pillars of the FAO" in helping them deal with the situation.

"With climate change we are seeing increasing numbers of hurricanes and increasing intensity and impact of hurricanes, but historically when we look at the last 20 years, we know that this two per cent loss (in gross domestic product) is what's happening.

"So from that standpoint climate change on the risk management is a major part of our programme in the region," he said, adding "the loss of the pillars of the agricultural sector and the two pillars that have driven the Caribbean economy ... sugar and banana, those markets have been lost over the past Uruguay Rounds in 1995".

Stephenson recalled the devastation caused by the unusual rains over the last Christmas Season that not only killed 12 people, but left millions of dollars in damage to agricultural lands as well as infrastructure.

In addition, he said in Caribbean countries, including his own, "we are noticing that the seas are encroaching on our land space due to high surges and the rising sea levels".

"You are seeing tremendous damage to our coastal areas," he said.

Stanley, in the meantime, noted that damage to the coral reefs are seriously depleting the fish population.

"Coral reefs are responsible for fish aggregation in its natural sense," he said, adding also that the waters are becoming much warmer resulting in the migration of fishes particularly those that are sensitive to the increase in water temperatures.

"What we have found is that they (fishes) are migrating further north which means that fishermen have to increase their efforts and these have serious problems in terms of increase expenditure because of increased efforts to get to the fishes wherever they are," he said, noting that in the case of St Kitts-Nevis, the authorities are now deploying fish aggregating devices "in order to have the fishes congregate in a particular area so as to reduce the search for them".

Ramsammy said one of the outcomes of the talks is the decision for an annual meeting between the FAO and Caribbean agriculture ministers with the first likely to take place in October in Suriname, coinciding with the Caribbean Week of Agriculture.

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