Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
Expert warns Caribbean, Pacific countries
St John's, Antigua:
Caribbean and Pacific countries are being warned that they must use information and communications technology (ICT) to overcome the obstacle of geographical separation and find solutions to the common challenges they face in agriculture, food security and climate change, among other areas, if they are to survive.
The warning, from José Filipe Fonseca of The Netherlands-based Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), came during Sunday's Intra-ACP Agriculture Policy Programme workshop at the Grand Royal Antiguan Beach Resort where the annual Caribbean Week of Agriculture is taking place from October 14-20.
The CTA is undertaking a €8.6 million project to benefit 15 countries - Jamaica and other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) states as well as the Dominican Republic - to be implemented by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture and the Caribbean Agricultural Research Development Institute over four years.
Fonseca, the CTA's senior programme coordinator, agricultural and rural development, charged that because the two regions are oceans apart, having very little historical or cultural ties, many people are unaware that as small island developing states they face similar challenges in everyday activities such as agriculture and the struggle to feed themselves, while coping with the impact of climate change.
He lamented that while they are members of the ACP and other groups, the two regions don't explore that link to do things together.
"You don't know each other enough," he told the meeting. "When I started working on this programme, many people were sceptical about the possibilities or relevance of the Caribbean-Pacific exchange in information - learning from each other. I had to argue a lot and make people understand that these two regions have a lot of similarities."
While some similar characteristics such as being surrounded by water are obvious, the islands are also bound together by rising food-import bills and declining agricultural populations - including farmers, agricultural technicians, managers and researchers. These are factors which make both regions susceptible to external economic and climatic shocks.
Working to find solutions
Noting that even with limited resources these countries had been working to find solutions to their individual problems, Fonseca said the time has come to use ICT to bridge the communication divide and share the information and knowledge among countries within the Caribbean, as well as with their Pacific neighbours.
"Some of the solutions are well known but why are these people (within the region) not working with each other to learn from each other? You don't use the potential of ICT to collaborate, not because you don't want to but because you don't know what the other has to offer. It's the same in the Pacific," he charged.
On the way going forward, Fonseca told The Gleaner: "You have computer-based technologies here, web-based, email, Skype which can help people surmount the difficulties of distance. You have young people who can use these applications easily, so there is no use in saying that physical distance is anymore a barrier. Distance is less important than it used to be because of the new and emerging information and communications technologies."
While acknowledging that there is still a place for face-to-face meetings in order to build trust and form long-term partnerships, he insisted that new and emerging information and communications technologies make distance less of an excuse for the lack of cooperation between Caribbean and Pacific people.
"Once you become aware of what they are doing there in terms of solutions to problems which are similar to yours, you start communicating, start sharing and finding solutions together," he said.
Meanwhile Sergio Garcia, coordinator for the CARICOM Secretariat, is confident that the project for which the contribution agreement is due to be signed in November, allowing for allocation of the first tranche, will have more of an impact at the ground level, benefiting farmers more directly than other similar projects.