CARDI: Region’s food systems still very fragile
The region’s food systems remain highly fragile and vulnerable to COVID-19, climate change and conflict as these continue to negatively impact lives and livelihoods further deteriorating food insecurity, the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) has warned.
CARDI says data from the Food and Agriculture Organization show that in March 2022 food inflation in the region increased by 10.2 per cent across 20 countries, when compared to March 2021, with Barbados and Jamaica recording 20 per cent and 15 per cent food price inflation respectively and Suriname recording a massive 68.3 per cent food inflation rate.
The fourth round of the CARICOM Caribbean COVID-19 Food Security and Livelihoods Impact survey revealed further that 2.75 million people (39 per cent) out of 7.1 million in the English-speaking Caribbean are food insecure.
“Agriculture can reverse these worrying trends,” declared CARDI’s executive director, Ansari Hosein. “CARDI is committed to providing the science-based solutions to lead this transformation and repositioning of the sector. Together with the right partnerships, innovations and investments the institute will help reposition the Caribbean’s agriculture sector to be an engine for food and nutrition security, sustainable growth, employment and resilience.”
Hosein advised that 2023 will mark the start of the institute’s new five-year strategic period which will provide opportunities for it to also preview plans for transforming the Caribbean’s agri-food systems and highlight how it will be supporting regional initiatives in reducing food imports by 25 per cent by 2025. He said that despite these setbacks 2022 was a year of rebuilding and in spite of the challenges there were accomplishments worthy of mention.
Hosein noted that under the EU/CARIFORUM Coconut Industry Development, Expansion and Enhanced Support for the Caribbean project being implemented by CARDI and the International Trade Centre, 25 new/refurbished nurseries can now supply sufficient planting material to establish 14,000 hectares of coconut annually across the Caribbean. The Brazil Green Dwarf – a water nut variety, which can potentially be a game changer for the industry, is currently being evaluated in Guyana and 1,000 of these seed nuts were imported into Guyana from Brazil.
In Trinidad and Tobago, CARDI collaborated with the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries’, Research Division to validate three improved pheromone trapping technologies for the South American Palm Weevil, Rynchophorous palmarum, which carries the vector for Red Ring Disease. The results showed that the improved trap design, the use of a synergist, and the positioning of the traps were effective in controlling the weevil population. The results from these on-farm trials are being used as part of an integrated pest management programme for improved management of Red Ring Disease. Across the Caribbean more than 13,000 persons have benefited from capacity building initiatives which targeted areas including nursery establishment and management, pest and disease management, tissue culture production and processing.
The institute, through funding provided by the Caribbean Development Bank, completed a value chain analysis of the sweet potato industry in four countries. The information will be used to guide production, marketing and processing initiatives. In St Vincent and the Grenadines, two dasheen cultivars introduced and evaluated by CARDI are now the choice of many farmers as they are highly productive, tolerant to pest and diseases and adapted to the soil and climatic conditions. The Institute also provided technical support to St Kitts and Nevis which is working to rejuvenate its roots and tubers sector. In Dominica, CARDI is working with the Ministry of Agriculture to develop the country’s white potato industry.
Through the assistance of FAO, CARDI Barbados demonstrated that locally produced fish based silage can be just as effective as commercial feeds. The ramifications of this are significant as imported grains for commercial feed production is among the top three imported food items into the region, averaging between US$400-500 million annually.
Antigua and Barbuda, Belize and Grenada led the way with the production of quality pepper planting material with more than 40 kilogrammess of seeds for West Indies Red, Moruga Red and Scotch Bonnet produced by CARDI and marketed through the Caribbean Agricultural Commercial Services Hub Limited. As the centre for the Institute’s cereal and grain legumes programme, Belize produced 153.9 metric tonnes of corn grain and 116 metric tonnes of soybean grain as well as seeds for red beans, black beans and peanut. These were sold to farmers and processors. CARDI Grenada produced and sold over 55,000 vegetable seedlings for the farming community in 2022.
In the area of climate change mitigation, work by the institute under the Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience showed that the two sweet potato varieties in Jamaica – Uplifta and Ganja – have drought-tolerant characteristics. The institute continues to support the demonstration and adoption of hydroponic and other climate-smart production systems and practices across member states.