US$5.3m invested in regional food security

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Shopping cart filled with essential food items at a grocery store in Port of Spain. – File photo by Faith Ayoung

A US$5.3 million investment has been made across eight Caricom states to promote sustainable agricultural development and enhance food security in the region.

Ministry of Agriculture permanent secretary Javed Ali made the announcement at the opening of the enhancement of extension services workshop at the UWI St Augustine campus on June 11.

The three-year investment comes from Improving Economies for Stronger Communities (IESC), US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Caribbean Agricultural Productivity Improvement Activity (CAPA).

The programme aims to improve farmers’ technical capacity by integrating good agricultural practices through extension services.

IESC, through the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA) intends to address the strengthening of these extension services.

IICA delegate Diana Francis said the way extension services evolve will significantly affect the region’s ability to achieve agri-food development goals.

“Extension services were an essential fixture from the days of plantation agriculture. In this new and rapidly changing environment, which is technologically, digitally and dominated by artificial intelligence, extension service transformation can no longer afford to lag behind.”

Francis said extension services must be reimagined and reinvented.

“Farmers, who are the ultimate users and doers of the information-knowledge transfer, must have a central role.”

Describing extension services as the “lifeline” of agricultural innovation and farmer support, Ali said the programme was crucial in enabling farmers to prosper in a competitive global market.

“They bridge the gap between research and practice, ensuring that farmers have access to the latest knowledge, technology and best practices.”

Ali said the project was “timely” as the ministry has introduced online training courses for farmers.

“We in the ministry are seeking to empower our farmers to access educational and training resources at their convenience, at their fingertips to enable them to proactively enhance their own skills.”

CAPA programme director Saniford Edwards emphasised the need for enhanced agriculture stakeholder knowledge and capacity through ongoing collaboration with regional universities.

“Already we have signed a memorandum of agreement with the University of Guyana. The memorandum will provide a structured and formal mechanism for joint engagement and capacity building.”

Edwards said a similar approach is being developed with UWI through the Faculty of Food and Agriculture.