Minister of Agriculture, Sen. Haynesley Benn

The challenges facing agriculture and rural life in Barbados and Grenada came under the microscope at the recently concluded Forum for Leaders in Agriculture in San Jose, Costa Rica, which was organised by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).

The Forum, which was part of an innovative effort promoted by IICA through its Centre for Leadership in Agriculture, sought to provide input, through dialogue, for Ministers of Agriculture, as well as senior executives in the agricultural sector to shape a current vision of agriculture and rural life in the 21st Century.

Among the topics discussed were the global challenges facing any Minister of Agriculture in this millennium, as well as poverty, food security, climate change, malnutrition, trans-boundary diseases and multilateral trade negotiations.

According to IICA’s Director General, Chelston Braithwaite, governments need to recognise the true value of agriculture to their economies since it contributes to nearly 30% of several countries’ Gross Domestic Product. “If they made the necessary investments in the sector, and if agriculture were to be given priority on the national development agendas, the sector would contribute far more to solving some of the pressing global challenges and improving the level of development in our countries,” Mr. Brathwaite stated.

Pointing out that increasingly violent hurricanes and floods caused by climate change made it imperative for Caribbean countries to develop agricultural insurance and early prevention systems, the Director General explained how the complexity of the agricultural sector and its multiple ties to other areas (such as tourism, industry and public health) have led to changes in the portfolios of Agriculture Ministers, “since they are no longer ministers of producers, but also ministers of consumers, agriculture, food and rural development.”

Meanwhile, this country’s Agriculture Minister, Senator Haynesley Benn, who addressed the forum, told the gathering that Barbados had viewed the global challenges as an opportunity to reinforce the importance of agriculture.  He gave the assurance that his Ministry was aware that food security, food safety and sound nutrition were “high on the list” for this country’s development.

He added that the Ministry of Agriculture was working hard to diversify production and strengthen markets not only to facilitate the sale of farm produce, but also to motivate hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and other players in the tourism sector to purchase agricultural products.

On the matter of the introduction of new technologies, Minister Benn said that greenhouses had been established and activities carried out to increase productivity and protect the environment, as well as safeguard sustainable land development.
In addition, Senator Benn’s Grenadian counterpart, Minister Michael Lett, shared his proposal to promote his country’s agriculture, which was devastated by Hurricanes, Ivan and Emily in 2004 and 2005, respectively.

He emphasised that Grenada’s agricultural sector further suffered due to the effects of rising fuel prices, the dismantling of European Union trade preferences and certain invasive agricultural diseases.

As part of their visit to Costa Rica, the Ministers went on a field trip to “La Esperanza” organic farm, the National Horticultural Corporation, the National Learning Institute and Earth University.
Minister Benn was accompanied by Deputy Agricultural Officer, Charleston Lucas.

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