Food and Agriculture agency head shows support for Caribbean

In its ongoing show of commitment to the Caribbean region, the most senior official of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), attended the opening of the 34th CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting recently held in Trinidad and Tobago from 3-6 July.

Dr. Jose Graziano da Silva, FAO Director General, attended the Opening Ceremony of a packed conference held on the 40th anniversary of CARICOM’s founding. He met with President of Guyana and Lead Head of Government for Agriculture, Mr. Ronald Ramotar, Prime Ministers of the Bahamas, Grenada and St. Kitts, Mr. Perry Christie, Dr. Keith Mitchell and Dr. Denzil Douglas, respectively, as well as the Foreign Ministers of Dominica and Suriname.

Director General of FAO, Dr. Graziano, meets with President of Guyana and Lead Head of Government for Agriculture, Mr. Donald Ramotar

Director General of FAO, Dr. Graziano, meets with President of Guyana and Lead Head of Government for Agriculture, Mr. Ronald Ramotar

Dr. Graziano, who has headed FAO since January 2012, took the opportunity to personally outline a series of changes and reforms which are making the Organization more efficient and responsive to Member Countries’ needs. He also spoke about FAO’s new strategic objectives and its focus, not just on the reduction, but the eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. He reiterated that hunger levels are impacted by climate change, disaster resilience, governance, inclusion and access and offered the Organization’s help in dealing with those challenges.

He mentioned FAO’s leading role in facilitating the UN’s Zero Hunger Challenge which acts as a catalyst for hunger eradication by setting five measurable milestones to be achieved within two years. The goals are:

· 100% access to adequate food all year round
· Zero stunted children less than 2 years old
· All food systems are sustainable
· 100% increase in smallholder productivity and income
· Zero loss or waste of food

A Zero Hunger pilot project is currently underway in Antigua and Barbuda and will serve as a roadmap for how the programme will be implemented across the region.

Dr. Graziano also met with Dr. Warren Smith, President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB). In their talks he noted the two organizations’ lengthy partnership dating back to 1986 and recommitted FAO to a new phase of cooperation based on a redefined set of priorities, reflecting current trends and opportunities for the regional agriculture sector. He spoke of FAO’s fruitful relationships with similar institutions including the World Bank and the African Development Bank.

They discussed several wide-ranging issues of relevance to the region including innovation and investment in agriculture research and production; agricultural diversification to fill the void left by the decline of the sugar and banana industries and the potential of crops such as cassava, pineapple, mango and coconut; the need to reduce the food import bill; employment and labour supply for agriculture with a special focus on youth and women; addressing challenges to the agricultural value chain; preparing for the impact of climate change on agriculture; and an ecosystem approach to intensifying crop production.

Dr. Graziano, who is accompanied by Dr. J.R. Deep Ford, FAO’s Subregional Coordinator for the Caribbean, continues his mission to the region with upcoming visits to several other Caribbean countries.

Dr. Ford indicated that, “The visit of the Director General to the region is very timely given that one of the main issues at the Heads of Government meeting was related to stimulating the economies of CARICOM countries. A revitalized, more productive agricultural and food sector capable of substituting domestic food for imported food and producing non-traditional products for export markets is critical to achieving the economic growth rates that are needed for the region’s development.”

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