Facing a massive US$480-million food import bill, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is to put in place a plan for agriculture which aims to reduce that expense.
OECS Director General Dr. Didacus Jules said at a press conference on Wednesday that the grouping hopes the plan will reduce the bill by US$200-million.
“The capacity to feed ourselves is a fundamental responsibility of any society and the reality is that in the last ten years the food import bill in the OECS has doubled,” he stated. “We are now at about US$480 million of food imports.”
He stated that recently the OECS Council of Ministers of Agriculture held a meeting and an agricultural plan of action was developed to tackle the matter.
Jules noted that one of the main pillars of the plan of action is “a serious drive” to reduce the food import bill “by at least US$200-million within the next three to five years.”
He, however, pointed out that effort will be needed for accomplishing that goal.
“That is going to require a very concerted effort and strong political will by all the member states in order to have it accomplished,” he said. “But think of the impact of us accomplishing that. If you reduce your food import bill by US$200 million in these debt ridden time, that is US$200 million that you are actually saving, that you don’t have to spend on bringing food in from outside.”
He said that the emphasis on agriculture will have an impact on rural unemployment because it will create dynamism in the local market.
“The Ministers of Agriculture has decided that the first point of call has to set an example in government procurement,” Jules noted. “So for example if Ministries of Education have a school feeding program, the government will buy produce from farmers in the communities where the schools are located …”
The Director General said the entire program is not only about revitalizing agriculture.
“It is about food security, it is also about improving the national nutritional profile, it is about saving foriegn exchange, it is about boosting jobs in the communities and it is an opportunity for us to begin to restore agriculture to a different place…” Jules said.
Dr. Jules is now on his first visit to Dominica as OECS Director General.