“Food security is a matter of national importance since it determines the health and productivity of each nation’s human resources. “
Minister of Agriculture Fisheries and Barbuda Affairs, Hon. Dean Jonas emphasized this point during his presentation on the Budget Debate last evening (Tues) in Parliament.
Minister Jonas was adamant that when high priority is placed on food and nutrition security, it will give rise to disposable income and employment opportunities.
“For those of us in emerging economies, we must therefore seek to modernize agriculture, improve production efficiency, achieve food security and profitability for farmers with the goal of significantly increasing agricultural productivity.”
According to the Agriculture Minister, policies and interventions must be developed to ensure that farmers and fisherfolk earn higher incomes.
He added that reforms that encompass the full agricultural value chain and create additional businesses and job opportunities in the areas of storage, transport, processing, packaging and marketing of agricultural produce must be actively embraced.
Minister Jonas pointed out that Agricultural development should not be considered optional, it should be considered mandatory.
“We must treat with the stark reality that our level of food importation is akin to a chronic economic disorder which requires immediate treatment to avoid a slow and inevitable death. The data should be released with the same urgency as a public health alert; the response should be rapid, production goals set, and funding realigned to address the matter of food security.”
In order to be the driver of the development of the agriculture sector in Antigua and Barbuda, Minister Jonas identified a number of significant points which include reducing the food import bill by expanding local production of key commodities which are significant foreign exchange users.
He emphasized that farmers must become competitive in the production and supply of selected commodities for target markets and effectively compete against imported products.
According to Minister Jonas, a Marketing Study/Plan conducted by an FAO Consultant should be completed within a few weeks and the document maps the way forward to a renewed and revitalized agriculture sector, which will improve production on a structured level, thus reducing the country’s food import bill.
The Average Annual Food Import Bill (2010-2017) = EC$245 million (US$91 million).