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Agricultural Transformation Mapped Out for OECS

Special Meeting of the Council of Ministers for Agriculture
Special Meeting of the Council of Ministers for Agriculture

THE Food and Agriculture Systems Transformation (FAST) Strategy underwent a Member State national alignment and collaboration exercise on Thursday, August 31, 2023 in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, at a Special Meeting of the Council of Ministers for Agriculture (COM:A) of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

The ministers convened earlier at the Seventh OECS COM:A on June 30, 2023, where they agreed that the OECS Commission would focus on three out of seven core areas from the ten-year FAST Strategy for developing its work programme for the next three years, namely private sector development; transport, logistics and trade; and climate resilient agriculture.

Director General of the OECS, Dr. Didacus Jules described the special ministers meeting as possibly the most consequential ever for agriculture in the subregion.

“What has come out of this is not just a consolidation of the plan for agricultural transformation but the determination of an actual road map as to how we get there…We are seeing a real holding of hands between the ministries of agriculture that we think will really help to move agriculture forward in the region,” remarked Dr. Jules.

“We need to put in place a solid architecture, that notwithstanding whatever political currents come through the region, notwithstanding whatever geopolitical stresses we experience, the architecture is in place that will ensure the OECS, as a grouping within the Caribbean region is able to thrive and survive regardless of what comes. That cannot be subject to political vacillations or changes,” he added.

Chairman of the COM:A, and Minister for Blue and Green Economy, Agriculture and Food Security in the Commonwealth of Dominica, Hon. Roland Royer, commended the ministers for their demonstrated commitment to the FAST Strategy and the strong partnership plans fostered at the meeting.

“Food and nutrition security is a top priority for the ministers of agriculture of the OECS,” Minister Royer affirmed, “I would say there is an urgency amongst ministers to get things moving on the ground. We recognise the implications at the household level of the decisions we make today.”

Royer briefly introduced to the media some of the highlights of the special meeting:

– Water was a prominent issue in the discussions and it was agreed that OECS would research and identify effective systems for water management.

– Food safety was also raised as a critical issue, and it was recommended that there be adoption of international quality standards.

– Ministers discussed the development of an OECS Food standard certification system benchmarked against GLOBAL Good Agricultural Practices Standards.

– Ministers recognized  the vast wealth of expertise in the region and agreed that the region immediately establish an OECS register of agricultural technicians.

The ministers of agriculture, at a virtual meeting on August 8, agreed to the establishment of a Food and Nutrition Security Centre (FNSC) in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, to support the OECS in implementing the FAST Strategy. Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Rural Transformation, Industry and Labour of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Hon. Saboto Caesar, spearheading the FNSC, hosted the special meeting and associated activities.

“I have great confidence that the FAST Strategy is going to be a significant game changer in production of food in the region,” Minister Caesar noted.

“What we are going to witness is a rebirth of a platform for export post-Winfresh, post-WIBDECO. Our efforts will not be limited to countries in the region but will extend globally beyond the United States of America and Canada, to revive international trade to the levels of the 80s and 90s that brought so many positives to the Windward Islands and to the rest of the OECS,” he added.

OECS agriculture ministers will return home with clarity on how their national strategies can contribute to delivery of the FAST Strategy. There is also a list of actions for collaboration and knowledge sharing which ministries will execute before the next COM:A and FAST Strategy update session.