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Working together, we can feed ourselves

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Tue, Oct 16, 2012

Today, October 16 is World Food Day, and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has chosen “Agricultural cooperatives – key to feeding the world” as the theme for 2012.

The FAO says that the theme was chosen to highlight the role of cooperatives in improving food security and contributing to the eradication of hunger.{{more}}

The United Nations is this year also highlighting the importance of cooperatives and rural organizations, having designated 2012 the International Year of the Cooperatives.

Agriculture has for centuries been the backbone of our economy. It was only in the 1990s, when banana went into decline, that tourism overtook agriculture in terms of foreign exchange earnings. Even so, the importance of agriculture to our nation, and its food security cannot be overemphasized.

According to the FAO’s definition, food security is achieved when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

These have not been easy times for us as a nation. Similarly, our farmers and consumers have been hard hit by the effects of the global economic decline. To the challenges brought on by the economic situation, add the setbacks our farmers have suffered from storms and flashfloods in 2010 and 2011, and of course, the Black Sigatoka disease.

But perhaps the biggest disincentive to farming today, is not pests or plant diseases, natural disasters, a dwindling market or even a reluctant labour force. The biggest challenge, many agree, is praedial larcency.

And this problem is not one which is unique to St Vincent and the Grenadines. At a regional media workshop in Antigua and Barbuda last week, that country’s minister of agriculture disclosed that approximately 25 per cent of agricultural produce across the region is stolen. And the problem seems to be getting worse. Even with the passage in 2007 here in SVG of the Praedial Larceny Agricultural Produce and Livestock Act, which made provision for the appointment of rural constables in agricultural areas to enforce anti-praedial larceny rules, this scourge continues.

What, therefore, can be done to bring some relief to our farmers? Over the years, farmers have formed themselves into different producer groups and cooperated for a common good. Our banana farmers have, for decades, marketed their produce together and there are now other producer groups such as SVG Agro-Producers, WINFA/ Fairtrade, Small Ruminants Company, Poultry Growers Association, Pineapple Growers Association, the North Windward Vegetable Producers Association and the Diamonds Trust. Perhaps these producer groups/cooperatives should consider taking a joint approach to their security challenges to augment the efforts being made by the rural constables.

The point was made at that same media workshop in Antigua, that in the Caribbean, we produce enough food to be able to feed ourselves. Yet still, in 2008, CARICOM (excluding Haiti) imported US$3.5 billion in food.

The region urgently needs to address its trade imbalance with the developed world, and a good place to start is to drastically reduce the quantity of food imported into the region.

This will depend, however, on the choices we, as consumers, make when we go to the supermarkets. We have the power in our hands to choose locally grown food over less nutritious imports. Farmers’ cooperatives have a role to play in helping to keep the cost of produce down. We, as consumers, also have a responsibility to our hard working farmers to refuse to buy produce from vendors when we suspect it may have been stolen. Working together, we can indeed feed ourselves.

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