|Feature Address by the Minister of Agriculture at the Caribbean Poultry Association Egg And Poultry Workshop|
|Written by Mark Byer|
|Friday, 02 July 2010 10:06|
FEATURE ADDRESS DELIVERED BY SENATOR THE HONOURABLE HAYNESLEY BENN, MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE, AT THE OPENING OF THE CARIBBEAN POULTRY ASSOCIATION EGG AND POULTRY WORKSHOP, HELD AT THE
BARBADOS YACHT CLUB ON WEDNESDAY, JULY 1, 2009
v Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture,
Mr. Michael King.
v Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society,
Mr. James Paul.
v Chief Executive Officer of the Caribbean Poultry Association.
v President of the Barbados Agricultural Society.
v President of the Barbados Egg and Poultry Producers Association.
v Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
v Specially Invited Guests.
v Ladies and Gentlemen…
I am indeed honoured to have been invited to deliver the Feature Address this morning at the start of this Regional Egg and Poultry Workshop. The theme of this Workshop “Maintaining competitiveness in an Uncertain Environment” is a very relevant one and comes at a time when economies globally are being faced with a severe global financial crisis and industries across all sectors are challenged to find means by which to weather this economic storm.
Ladies and gentlemen, one thing that we can be sure about in this life is that there will always be change and we must be able to demonstrate our ability to adapt. According to the words of the former British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson - “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery”.
Within a very short space of time there were three major global crises for which the world was not prepared – the food crises, the energy crisis, and the current global economic crisis – which have all impacted negatively on our national economies. When these issues are taken in conjunction with the other constraints, such as our vulnerabilities to natural disasters and issues of climate change, in addition to limited land and water availability, we can well understand the immense hurdle facing the agricultural sector.
We must therefore move with some alacrity to ensure that solutions are identified that could assist us in enhancing our competitiveness. In this way we could find comfort in the thought that we will not only manage our way through the current challenges facing the globe, but could furthermore position ourselves for our future survival.
I am sure I do not need to highlight to this esteemed audience, the role and importance of the agricultural sector in the Caribbean, as all of us here today could bear witness to its importance. Increasingly, however, we have found that there has been a general shift away from agriculture to others sectors such as tourism and financial services. This has created a situation where Caribbean economies are forced to rely heavily on food imports.
Unless effectively addressed, this increasing dependence on imports will have negative consequences, both economically and socially, namely on the food import bill, food and nutrition security, foreign exchange and economic diversification. In Barbados, for example, our food import bill has been steadily increasing over the years, reaching a massive U.S. $ 339.2 million (Bds. $678.5 m) in 2008, a 30% increase over the previous year’s figure of U.S. $260.6 million (Bds. $521.2 m) in 2007.
All of you, as stakeholders in the agricultural sector, must therefore challenge the policymakers in your respective countries not to reduce the importance of the sector to merely its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product, but to be ever mindful of its contribution to food security, employment, rural development, poverty alleviation, other social factors and environmental preservation. All of these areas are of great significance to the growth and development of the countries in the Caribbean region and will continue to contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of our people.
The truth of the matter however, is that we in the Caribbean have not invested enough to bring about the much needed transformation and diversification of our agricultural sectors. We have put the policies in place, such as the Regional Transformation Programme for Agriculture. We have defined a Community Agricultural Policy in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, and we have again outlined the constraints in the Jagdeo Initiative – but we have come forward with too few resources and much too slowly.
This reflects both the shortage of resources available to us, as well as our collective national priorities. The global challenges facing our regional agricultural exports demand a change of emphasis in the sector. The increased debt challenges in some of our countries demand greater attention to saving and generating foreign exchange, while the food security and health challenges require attention to food availability and food accessibility – all of these challenges call for increased investment in agriculture.
Ladies and gentlemen, we in the Ministry of Agriculture have recognised that in order to ensure the future of Caribbean agriculture, a more pro-active approach by the public sector is needed. This encompasses the need to react quickly to safeguard our domestic industries – be it from the risk of imported pests and disease or dumped products. We need to provide targeted assistance that encourages the use of appropriate research and technology and the distillation of the lessons learned, so that they create opportunities for stakeholders, whenever the opportunity arises.
It would require a change and re-orientation in how the public sector conducts its business and how it serves the stakeholders of the agricultural sector – from farmers to agro-processors and consumers. This is a necessary element to complement the initiatives that may be taken by the private sector as it is only a cohesive approach by both parties that will ensure the viability of Caribbean agriculture.
In this new era of globalization, the agricultural sector must be able to respond appropriately to the challenges which it will face both domestically and internationally. Now more than ever we the stakeholders in the sector must work collectively in identifying not only the constraints, but the priority areas and measures that are needed to revitalise the agricultural sector. Emphasis must also be placed on strengthening the policy, institutional and regulatory support systems which are necessary for the successful production, processing and marketing of agricultural commodities.
The importance of agricultural health and food safety should not be underestimated since this area has major significance regarding the health of the nation and the importation or exportation of goods. The Ministry is presently in the process of consolidating and improving its science laboratories with the assistance of the Inter-American Development Bank and will be instituting a new legislative regime to meet international conventions, standards and protocols. Furthermore, there would be the need for a greater harmonisation of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) standards among Caribbean countries in order to facilitate trade. We recognise that the cost of such programmes are challenging to some countries, but they are of great necessity in order to enhance our region’s limited resources. In this regard, the proposed establishment of the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Authority (CAHFSA) must play an important role in minimising duplication across regional states. Barbados has already started the process leading to the establishment of its own National Agricultural Health and Food Control Agency, which will coordinate all agricultural health and food control systems in the country.
There is no doubt that there is a need for a more focused Competitiveness Enhancement Programme, with a view to improving the viability of investment opportunities for the sector. My Ministry recognizes that efforts must also be made to reduce per unit cost of production, enhance product quality, and improve marketing of agricultural and fisheries products. In this regard, competitiveness enhancement within the sector features prominently in the Ministry’s Strategic Plan for the period 2008 to 2013 and has been integrated into the programmes for the five year period covered by the Plan.
As part of its efforts to reposition and transform the sector, My Ministry will continue to pursue an agri-business approach to farming, with particular attention being paid to the effective use of resources, as well as adoption of appropriate technologies and sound management practices. The Ministry has been working closely with the private sector, as well as support institutions, to focus on the development of key commodities, such as poultry, which offer scope for growth.
Ladies and gentlemen, the poultry industry has made a sterling contribution to the economy in Barbados, with production levels continuing on an increasing trajectory since 1993 up to the present. Indeed poultry production increased from 8.7 million kilogrammes in the year 1993, to reach an estimated 14.6 million kilogrammes by the year 2008.
Poultry exports have also seen steady increases since 1993, with our trade data revealing that while 113 kilogrammes of poultry meat was exported in 1993, this figure has increased over the years, with 212.8 thousand kilogrammes of poultry meat being exported in 2008. The exports in 2008 were valued at Bds $1.7 million and represented an increase in exports of 79% over the 2007 period.
However, there have been a number of challenges that have impacted negatively on the viability of the poultry industry in this country, including the rising cost of feed. My Ministry will therefore be seeking to work with the Caribbean Poultry Association in order to ensure that a cheaper source of feed can be provided, perhaps through the use of our local products, such as cassava.
Our policies towards improving the sustainability of the poultry industry in the future will also include:
Ladies and gentlemen, within a changing global environment, characterised by increasing trade liberalisation, enhancing international competitiveness is a pre-requisite to the continued survival of the local agricultural sector. The focus must increasingly be outward looking if the sector is to overcome the challenges it faces. Whilst some level of safeguards for the local sector will remain, pressure will continue to be exerted on the country to reduce barriers and open its markets. Therefore the sector must be cognizant of the forces of change and seek to adapt to the changing environment within which it must now operate.
I am pleased that you have all made the effort to attend this Workshop here today because we need partners, so that we can work together to make the potential synergies across CARICOM countries work more effectively, contributing to job creation and thus increasing the welfare of all the people of the region, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities. It is incumbent on all of us to recognise that collaboration, networking and cooperation are essential if we are to overcome the challenges that we now face, and will continue to face in the future.
Of course, all these must be complemented by increased cooperation among our regional producers, agricultural associations and other agriculture stakeholders in the sharing of experiences. The existing relationship of the Caribbean Poultry Association and the Barbados Egg and Poultry Producers Association, and indeed the other agricultural associations throughout the Caribbean, can assist in facilitating this increased cooperation and partnership.
I wish to extend our sincere gratitude on behalf of My Ministry to all those who have contributed to making this workshop a reality. A special word of thanks must also be extended to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, who continues to offer its fullest support to the development of agriculture in the region.
I implore each of the participants here today, both individually and collectively, to utilise the knowledge that will be gained here over the next two days, for the benefit of the sector. I wish you a successful seminar.