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Regional conference highlights need for new approach to debate on food security

Wednesday, May 21, 2014    

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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (CMC) — An international conference has ended here with Caribbean delegates indicating that the region needs to do more to influence the discussion on food security, nutrition and making a case for increased economic assistance.

More than 700 policy-makers, development practitioners, donors, and others met here to evaluate emerging shocks that pose significant threats to food and nutrition security among Small Island Development States (SIDS), including in the Caribbean.

The three-day meeting here was tasked with identifying the key agricultural and nutritional needs for the well-being, livelihood and economies of SIDS. The conference highlighted presentations from experts from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Caribbean delegates had a hard time putting across their concerns to the conference with regional economist and former diplomat, Edwin Laurent, telling the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) "it is clear that the Caribbean needs to do more, we need to be more focused on getting our message across about what our needs are and more strategic in having them met".

But he contends that the principle focus at conferences such as this needs to be on Africa, given its size and the number of people who live there and by comparison, the scope of the problem in the Caribbean.

"In the Caribbean you don't have people dying from hunger as opposed to Africa where thousands die each year, and where the problems of food and security are much more severe than they are anywhere else in the world, so it is quite appropriate that there be this great attention to the problems of Africa," Laurent told CMC.

He said too that from reports presented it was clear that the attention to African issues was bearing fruit, as in the case of Ethiopia where a few years ago thousands died from famine, more recently with greater attention being paid to the requirements of the country, only a few died when inflicted by a major drought.

"So there has been change and progress in some areas, but unfortunately where the Caribbean is concerned we have not been seeing much positive and rapid change as we have seen in Africa," he noted.

"For example here in Ethiopia we have learnt that the economy has been recording growth of 10 per cent, no other country in the world has been experiencing such rapid growth," said Laurent a trade and economic development consultant.

The 2020 vision conference was about food security and ensuring that countries and people have access to food, but Caribbean delegates expressed the view that this region has a different interest in the subject, with the focus not on what can be grown locally, but having enough money to be able to purchase what people need.

"So my concern about the meeting was that it addressed problems that are more applicable to those of Africa and Asia. But having said that, maybe the Caribbean is not getting its message across, so there is not sufficient understanding of the peculiarity of

our region.

"There may therefore be a need to look more critically at how we articulate our message and the attention that we place in getting our concerns understood," Laurent added.

Caribbean farmer groups attending the conference also spoke of the need for a greater coordinating mechanism on the issues of food security, nutrition and climate change both at the regional and international level.

They called for greater focus not just on academic institutions, but the process of incorporating local knowledge in an effort to enrich the whole dialogue.

But the farmer groups are ecstatic about achieving what they described as their primary objective at the three-day conference, that of furthering the process of bringing the Caribbean and the Pacific together as a bloc.

"This would enable us to negotiate a better quota of aid packages and programmes, because in the ACP regime, it is all about Africa, it being a large continent, and a major frontier for growth, as a result the Caribbean and the Pacific have been sidelined," said Jethora Greene Co-ordinator of the Caribbean Farmers Network.

He said that the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Co-operation had facilitated the presence of a reasonably strong Pacific and Caribbean delegation at the conference, "as a result we have agreed to a collaborative effort building on what we had previously initiated."

He said he was certain the initiative will see the emergence of an EU Caribbean/Pacific summit with a number of partners already expressing an interest, "so from a Caribbean perspective our goal has been achieved.

"Essentially what we are saying is that if we have a summit for the Caribbean and Pacific with the EU, we will be able to focus on some of the real needs that we have, as opposed to getting lost in the wider ACP group especially when it comes to dealing with several issues of Africa," Greene said.

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