The Director-General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Manuel Otero, says the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic provides a situation for the Caribbean to develop food security strategies and greater efforts to increase self-sufficiency.
“Approximately 20 countries in the hemisphere are net importers of food. Each year, the Caribbean region alone draws a cheque for US$6 billion to feed 44.5 million people,” Otero said. “We must again reassess the role of family farmers, who, ironically, although pivotal in ensuring food self-sufficiency, are the adjustment variable in times of economic uncertainty.
“We must again reassess the role of family farmers.”— Manuel Otero
“These farmers supply close to 60 per cent of the food demand in the hemisphere. This situation requires us to focus on policies that benefit these producers, emphasising areas such as associativity, extension services, access to technology and agricultural insurance.”
But he warned that the new generation of pests and diseases affecting men and women, crops and animals, such as Fusarium on bananas, locusts and African Swine Fever, create the need for sophisticated surveillance and agricultural quarantine services, as a means of reinforcing the importance of health intelligence and prospective monitoring.
Otero said that the world is witnessing the spread of a new pandemic, and less than four months since it first erupted, “this emergency is rocking the world, and we are not yet able to foresee what life will be like in a few months when this dramatic event is finally over”.
But he said amidst the confusion, fear and disorientation, “we can draw some conclusions and identify preliminary lessons.
“The first is obvious. This situation is having a greater impact on economies that are excessively dependent on one sector, such as tourism, petroleum or agricultural raw materials. The structural, long-term antidote to this is diversification.”
Otero said that the slowing down of trade is also endangering people’s ability to fully exercise their right to food, especially in countries with an extremely high agricultural trade deficit.
“In some cases, it seems that there may be insufficient labour to transport goods, especially over long distances, although, this is not affecting the food supply at the moment.”