BASSETERRE, St. Kitts - DIRECTOR of Agriculture Melvin James believes that storage of local produce is critical to food security in the Federation.
James joined the chorus of other agriculture officials in St. Kitts and Nevis to echo the importance of food security in the two islands.
The topic continues to be placed under the spotlight as governments across the region seeks ways to reduce the high food import bill.
Data from 2018 shows that the region has a food import bill that stands at $4.5B.
Speaking at the recent Open Day, the Director reminded that a lot of what is produce goes to waste.
“For our food security we need to convert to long term storage in large quantities. We produce a lot and at the end of the production season a lot goes to waste.
There is not enough conversion, whether it is agro processing or storage.
“We also need to commercialize activities and, very importantly, increase our local fresh produce,” James said.
According to media reports, Guyana, Haiti and Belize were the only countries in the 14-member CARICOM bloc that produced more than 50 percent of what they consumed.
Additionally, the Director pointed to other challenges facing the local agriculture, including water shortage and larceny.
“Our farmers and the persons involved in agriculture often cite our limitation such as water, pigs, monkeys [and] even predial larceny. But, seriously, one of the things underestimated and not spoken about enough is our difficulty to market our produce.”
In the area of market accessibility, Director James noted that though the market remains small, most of the produce being purchased are imported.
“The market continues to be small because a lot of the purchases are from produce that are imported. If indeed we are going to be food secure, we cannot only be excited about the good showing, but we need to be mindful of the challenges that we have from day-to-day…the difficulty, especially in marketing our produce.
“Because of that, the Department of Agriculture will this year embark on a special, maybe challenging but needful initiative where we are going to be approaching our government and presenting a programme to them, where having consulted with the farmers we will have significant and predictable increases.
“And we will be asking us as a people to use the means necessary, the means afforded us by our association and institutions like the WTO to increase our tariffs such that our local produce can find space in the market.”