Traditional farmers in Aranguez.
BY ASHA JAVEED
When hurricanes and floods plagued farmers in the Caribbean
last year it curbed their ability to meet demand and subsequently
vegetable prices rose.
These days prices seem to be on a sustained high with
local restaurants having to re-evaluate their prices.
There are also questions of food security at a time where
T&Ts import bill is double the amount it exports.
While there is no one solution to provide food security,
biotechnology is being viewed as one option which is driven
by the private sector.
The challenge now is to change the Caribbeans negative
perception of genetically modified organism (GMOs).
Wendel Parham, executive director of the Caribbean Agricultural
Research and Development Institute (Cardi) in St Augustine,
pointed out that biotechnology can contribute toward making
Caribbean agriculture more productive and competitive.
Parham spoke at a Caricom, Cardi and Food and Agriculture
Organisation (FAO) hosted workshop titled, Toward
Harmonisation of Caribbean Biotechnology on Monday
at the Crowne Plaza.
T&T, through Cardi, produces a large number of cropsbanana,
plantain, cassava, sweet potato, anthuriums and fernswhich
are exported to Caricom countries on order.
Parham explained that 1.7 million hectares of arable land
is present in Caricom countries.
In order to be competitive, regional agriculture
needs to focus on niche crops, technologies and services
where the Caribbean can be considered as having a unique
advantage, he said.
For instance, the coffee product grown in the Blue Mountains
of Jamaica cannot be produced anywhere else in the world
and maintain its unique characteristic flavours. The same
is apparently true to the regions Sea Island cotton
and hot peppers.
Biotechnology should be used to conserve and systematically
exploit these genetic germplasm resources for overall benefit
of the region. Biotechnology should also be used to strengthen
our quarantine services so as to sensitively detect intruding
novel pests and diseases as trade within the region or from
outside is pursued, he added.
If biotechnology is to take its place in optimally
impacting on the regions agriculture than a policy
must be in place to provide the proper supportive environment,
He explained that the policy must provide a clear vision
and objectives which embraces priority areas for development,
a means of facilitating collaborative efforts among regional
scientists and institutions to develop biotechnology products
The policy would also encourage investments by providing
rewards for those who choose to put up capital, rational
biosafety regulations and guidelines with adequate safeguards
and risk assessment based on sound science.
This would in turn create an environment which allows
for the smooth transition from research to commercialisation.
Standards across the region also need to be harmonised
so as to avoid loopholes for exploitation, he said.