Resilience in agriculture is meeting focus after unprecedented hurricanes



Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana – With the recent widespread damage and destruction of the agriculture sector in several Caribbean territories at the forefront of their minds, regional agriculture officials began meeting in Georgetown on Wednesday. A key focus of their meeting is building resilience of Caribbean agriculture to natural disasters.

Representatives of CARICOM member states and regional institutions are holding discussions at the CARICOM Secretariat from which they will put forward recommendations for the consideration of ministers at their 71st Special Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) Agriculture on Friday.

At the beginning of the day-long preparatory session, Dr. Raymon Nojodimedjo, chairman of the meeting of officials and deputy director, planning and development, Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries of Suriname, expressed sympathy and support to those who were affected by the hurricanes that left a trail of destruction in the region within the past month.

Agriculture and climate change-related matters was a key agenda item of the meeting. The use of the regional standardised audit instrument tool to integrate climate change and disaster risk management considerations into the work programmes of the planning units of the Ministries of Agriculture, will be emphasised to attain greater levels of readiness to deal with climatic catastrophes.

Additionally, the ministers will be asked to support the development of the strategy for emergency assistance to the agriculture sector, and the establishment of the Regional Agriculture Emergency Sub-Committee, for a more coordinated response to disasters in the agriculture sector.
The special COTED will also address the socio-economic and environmental impact of natural disasters on the Caribbean and the relevance of early warning and forecasting systems; the expansion and improvement of drainage and irrigation structures; and land use policy and legislation to lower the impacts on agriculture.

The ministers are also expected to look at the establishment of seed banks so that farmers could access farming material following a disaster; an adequate stock of fertilisers; and better facilitating the free movement of agriculture workers to member states to help expedite the rebuilding process.

Several storms, including two Category Five hurricanes, hit the region recently, with CARICOM member states Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas and Dominica, as well as associate members Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands,and the Turks and Caicos Islands, being hardest hit.

Category Five Hurricane Irma flattened Barbuda, destroying more than 90 percent of the island’s infrastructure. All residents were evacuated to sister island Antigua. Hurricane Irma also hit The Bahamas, and stripped some areas of the British Virgin Islands of vegetation. It pummeled Turks and Caicos Islands, which also was hit by the other Category Five hurricane, Maria, which also caused significant damage to the environment and to the agriculture sector in St. Kitts and Nevis.

Maria directly hit Dominica and devastated the island. The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) reported a 100 percent destruction of the agriculture sector of Dominica, a country that has been actively pursuing a green economy. CDEMA said there was “severe damage” to farm housing, irrigation and infrastructure, feeder roads as well as crop and livestock production, in addition to forests reserves and coastal fishery. Many feeder and farm roads are impassable resulting in loss of available food for both consumption and marketing. Loss of poultry and livestock was reported. There were also reports of loss, damage or destruction of agricultural tools and infrastructure such as spades, forks, pruning shears and greenhouses.

Dominica and Barbuda must rebuild from “ground zero” and officials have pledged to give the utmost of their technical knowledge as well as assist in resource mobilisation to assist these member states in re-establishing their agriculture sectors.