Thursday 21st April 2005


Caricom ponders modified foods

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Traditional farmers in Aranguez.


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&T’s 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 Caribbean’s 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 crops—banana, plantain, cassava, sweet potato, anthuriums and ferns—which 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 region’s 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 region’s agriculture than a policy must be in place to provide the proper supportive environment,” he said.

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 and services.

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.



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