The Ministers and Secretaries of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, Food and Rural Development of the Americas reaffirmed their willingness to implement measures at the national, regional and hemispheric levels to guarantee food and nutritional security in the hemisphere, which has been put at risk by the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic crisis that is expected to follow.
On Monday, the region’s high-level agricultural authorities participated in a virtual meeting hosted by the Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development of Mexico, Víctor Villalobos, with support from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Following the meeting, the ministers issued a document that describes the individual and joint efforts they will undertake to guarantee food and nutritional security, including:
· Strengthening the production of food and agricultural, forestry and aquaculture products in countries of the Americas, recognizing the strategic role that the agrifood sector will play in economic reactivation.
· Strengthening sanitary measures and protocols that protect human health as well as agricultural health without hindering the adequate flow of food, through prior consultation mechanisms.
· Maintaining proper functioning of national and international markets, as well as local supply chains, through the timely exchange of information on food availability, demand and prices.
· Continuing to support the participation of small and medium-scale agriculture in agrifood chains, particularly during the pandemic and the subsequent period of economic recovery, through public policies, public and private investment, as well as the allocation of funding under preferential conditions.
· Reaffirming their trust in international technical cooperation provided by specialized agencies such as IICA and FAO, which can complement efforts to bolster innovation, inclusion and sustainability in the agriculture and rural sectors.
The agricultural authorities highlighted the joint work undertaken by countries, international organizations and cooperation agencies.
“Lately, we have been meeting more regularly than usual, which is very good. We must maintain the exchange of information and products, adopt agricultural health measures, guarantee the continuity of markets and provide SMEs with the necessary support, with the clear intention of generating the necessary conditions for economic reactivation in the aftermath of the pandemic, but also within the medium and long term ”, stated Víctor Villalobos.
Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture of the United States, noted, “the rest of the world should admire the relationship between countries in the Americas, which serves as an example that cooperation benefits everyone”. He added that his country is committed to maintaining cooperation with all of its trade partners and called for avoiding the adoption of measures that restrict the exchange of products without any scientific justification.
“Agricultural trade is critical for all citizens; it creates jobs, increases income and provides safe, high-quality food. It is also crucial to keep borders open to foreign workers and protect their safety, because they are essential and deserve to be treated that way”, remarked Marie Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture of Canada.
Tereza Cristina, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply of Brazil, stated that the agriculture sector is under a great deal of pressure to maintain food supply, but continues to show resilience. “We will rely on the agriculture sector for recovery, but we must improve conditions in the countryside, where the world’s poverty is concentrated. We cannot return to the situation we had before the pandemic; instead, we will need to transition towards a fairer system that does not reward inefficiency”.
Saboto Caesar, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries and Rural Transformation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, underscored the need for Caribbean countries to receive more technical cooperation to transform their economic base, which relies on tourism and has been hard hit by the pandemic. “We must develop new ways to cooperate, both at the multilateral and bilateral levels”.
Antonio Walker, Minister of Agriculture of Chile, stated, “If it weren’t for international cooperation, many inhabitants in our region would be unable to feed themselves. We have adopted many measures in all of our countries. In Chile, we have achieved progress with respect to the electronic certification, as well as created a committee for safe food supply, which includes a wide range of participants, from small-scale farmers to final consumers. The committee includes farmers, transporters, wholesale and retail markets, as well as supermarkets and traders”.
Spirit of regional cooperation
Also in attendance at the virtual meeting of ministers were the Director General of IICA, Manuel Otero, and the Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean of FAO, Julio Berdegué, who agreed that the agrifood sector can be a driving force for post-pandemic economic recovery, which will be a necessity.
According to Otero, joint work at the regional level must be bolstered through concrete measures aimed at materializing the position adopted by the ministers. “We must always, and particularly amidst these dramatic circumstances, prioritize family farmers as much as health professionals and public safety officials. We require a digital agricultural revolution in family farming, and we have the capacity to succeed in this regard, because today’s technology is available at a low cost and yields high returns. Agriculture is the most relevant sector for food security”.
Julio Berdegué, in turn, noted that it is necessary to reduce inequalities in Latin America and the Caribbean, which have been exacerbated by COVID-19. “In 2019, hunger affected 47.7 million people, and this figure is expected to increase to almost 67 million people by 2030, without even taking into account the impact of the pandemic. Additionally, having a healthy diet is most expensive in our region, costing almost USD 4 per person per day. We are an incredibly productive region, but a healthy diet is beyond the reach of nearly 104 million individuals”.
The virtual meeting on 13 July was the second hemispheric meeting of ministers jointly organized by IICA and FAO. The first meeting, which was held on 22 April, was hosted by the Minister of Agriculture of Chile, Antonio Walker.
The next hemispheric meeting will likely be held in October.
See below the Performance Report for the Ministry of Agriculture 2015-2020
– Seedbed preparation, sowing and transplanting
Kitchen waste is truly useful. Oftentimes, persons discard vegetable and fruit seeds as waste. But, seed is an expensive commodity that should not be tossed out. So, the next time you peel your fruits and vegetables extract the seeds. This could be the start of a flourishing kitchen garden.
Vegetables are grown either by directly placing the seeds into the ground or by transplanting seedlings that were sown in seedbeds. However, fruit plants are initially produced as seedlings in nurseries. Some are grafted or budded before planting.
Irrespective of the method or propagation, it is essential that the basics of seedbed preparation, sowing and transplanting be followed closely to maximize the benefits from crop production.
Setting up a seedbed or nursery to begin your vegetable production is simple. This is a small area set aside for raising tender young plants for transplanting to other areas. Whether raised or flat, the seedbed should be firm allowing seeds to be in close contact with soil particles.
It is important that the seedbed is free from trash and vegetation, which usually hinder seedling growth. The seedbed should have sufficient moisture for seed germination and to support the growth of seedlings.
For small vegetable seeds, the best type of seedbed is a mixture of sand and compost or well-rotted pen manure. Too much sand dries quickly causing the soil to form a crust on the surface, which is bad for germinating seeds. Meanwhile, excess compost causes the soil to retain too much moisture, exposing the seedlings to “damping off,” a fungal disease.
The width of the seedbed is very important. If the bed is too wide it may not be possible to tend to seedlings in the middle of the bed without injury to those on the outer edge. Seed boxes or seed trays could also be used to produce the seedlings.
The seedbed/nursery should be adequately shaded to protect seedlings from wind and heavy rainfall. Evenly distributed shade reduces the intensity of the sunrays, and water loss by the crop and soil, and the amount of stress on the seedlings. The amount of shade should be reduced gradually until the time of transplanting.
It is a very good practice to sterilize the soil in the seedbed before sowing. You could either use chemicals or hot water. Boiling water poured onto the soil at a rate of one water can per square metre of bed is enough to disinfect that area. Using a jute (plant fibre) bag or any suitable material, cover the bed for a few hours. In addition, all the tools in the nursery should be cleaned so as to reduce the possibility of contamination of the soil or crop.
Now that the seedbed/nursery is prepared the next step is sowing. Make a furrow across the width of the bed about four inches from the edge of the bed. A furrow is a long, narrow trench used especially for planting seeds or irrigation). You should repeat this at 7.5cm intervals along the length of the seedbed/seed box.
Where planting is done on a seedbed, mix the quantity of seed with about six times as much sand; then take the sand/seed mixture and let it slip slowly through the finger into the furrows. This will ensure that the seeds are not planted too close to each other. Cover the furrow lightly with the soil and press gently to ensure proper seed/soil contact.
Water the seeds immediately after sowing. Watering should be done lightly to avoid the seeds being displaced or for “damping off” to occur. The seedbed/box should be placed in a shade for protection from “dry” winds and sunlight.
When the seedlings emerge, they should be toughened. Placing them in the early morning or late afternoon sunlight does this. As the plants get older, gradual exposure to more sunlight will prepare them for the time when they will be transplanted into the field.
While the seedlings are growing preparation for transplanting them must be put in place. If they stay too long in the nursery their productivity will decrease. It is best to transplant plants when they are a few centimeters high and have between three and five leaves.
It is preferable to choose a cloudy day or after 16:00hrs, when the heat of the sun is less to transplant. This will expose the plants to the cool of the night to overcome the transplanting shock. At least one hour before taking out the plants, soak them thoroughly with water to cause as much soil as possible to cling to the roots.
When transporting them to the site for planting, ensure that the roots are covered and not exposed to the sun and or wind. Carefully separate the plants making sure that the roots are not damaged. Make a hole in the ground large enough to accommodate the roots and the soil adhering to the roots. Do not pour water into the holes before planting. Place the plant with soil into the hole making sure that the roots are pointing downwards.
Make the soil firm around the plant to force out any air pockets but do not press hard enough to break the roots. Water the plants immediately and use leafy twigs as shade for a day or two.
Thirteen Caribbean Ministers of Agriculture participated in a videoconference with the Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), in which they discussed strategies to bolster agricultural activity and to safeguard the food supply amidst the ongoing health crisis, in a region that relies heavily on food imports and on tourism.
Saboto Caesar, Minister of Agriculture of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, convened the meeting and will also lead the efforts of the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) agrifood sector to tackle the pandemic.
Actions that IICA will undertake with the Caribbean countries to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic will include facilitating direct dialogue with Ministers of Agriculture of all regions of the Americas to share useful information for decision making related to food security, and providing online training in good agricultural and health practices for rural workers.
The Ministers of Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Surinam and Trinidad and Tobago participated in the videoconference.
“The most important role we can play is to inspire and motivate others”, said Michael Pintard, Minister of Marine Resources and Agriculture of The Bahamas. “Covid-19 is one of those defining tragedies from which we will recover. If we unite as a region and as nations, we will be able to inspire our people”.
Manuel Otero, IICA’s Director General pledged that, “We will work with the Caribbean countries to devise ambitious proposals to generate a new extension services strategy based on the use of online and mobile telephone systems, as well as to drive horizontal cooperation, enabling the ministers to establish contact with key countries to build bridges and to take advantage of existing complementarities”.
One of the greatest challenges facing the Caribbean is to ensure that food imports are not disrupted at this time when the global food trade is under severe pressure. Barbados, for example, imports 80% of the food that it consumes. On the other hand, Jamaica and Guyana are experiencing grave difficulties in storing excess food production after the closure of borders and the collapse of tourism, which is a vital industry for the regional economy that is normally the main outlet for most of the food that is produced locally.
Added to this is the drought now facing the region which makes it critical for the agriculture sector to increase resilience to climate variability and to incorporate technology.
IICA’s Director General also proposed to the Caribbean ministers of Agriculture that international financial agencies should be included in future online meetings, as part of a strategy to integrate efforts to guarantee food supply during the current pandemic and in its aftermath.
─ amid current global pandemic
Despite the impact of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) operations at the two Agro-Packaging facilities in Guyana continue.
This is according to General Manager of the New Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC), Ida Sealey-Adams.
“If a request is made to have one of our exporters to utilise any one of our facilities, whether it is Parika or the Central Packaging Facility in Sophia we will offer the service,” the General Manager told DPI in an extensive interview recently.
According to Sealey-Adams, GMC is preparing to facilitate a shipment next week to one of the regional markets.
In terms of refrigerating services, she said the agency continues to meet the need of their clients, once a request is made.
“We have our staff operating on a rotational basis because we have to visit to ensure that the refrigerator containers are operating at the temperature our clients would have requested,” she disclosed.
The Corporation is encouraging clients who seek services at the Market Information Centre to communicate via telephone or email.
“Many of them have the staff’s’ respective telephone numbers. They can utilise the staff email addresses or that of the Corporation which is email@example.com,” Sealey-Adams reiterated.
“Services such the provision of nutritional information and the USDA, as well as registration, continue to be offered, once it is requested,” she added.
Like other food providing agencies, while the New GMC’s extension officers are working remotely, they continue to serve stakeholders in their assigned catchment area.
The GM highlighted that the closure of ports in Guyana has delayed exports to a number of countries.
“It’s important to note also that many of our stakeholders or buyers are persons from the diaspora. When they visit there is a certain commodity they would take. With flights not being in operation, what we found there was a significant reduction in the number of persons visiting the Guyana Shop.”
However, Sealey-Adams noted that the corporation is hoping to have exports sent via sea once they receive requests and the ports are reopened.
─ GLDA says regular checks on availability of chicken done
─ adequate local dairy product available
The Guyana Livestock Development Authority (GLDA) is conducting regular checks on their meat and local dairy products to ensure there are adequate supplies during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
A senior official at GLDA Selwyn Anthony told DPI, “We make periodic checks because we want to be sure that we continue to import the right amount of eggs so that there will not be a short supply of chickens.”
“We continue to visit all the abattoirs in all the regions because we are responsible for antemortem inspection. The staff will be visiting the abattoirs on a designated day so that we continue to perform this service so that we can have meat available for the nation,” Anthony added.
Similarly, in the dairy industry, the authority is ensuring that farmers have the necessary supplies and that they are evenly distributed.
“The ports are closed so we don’t have control of what is coming in but what is being produced we will continue to encourage the farmers to keep their production system in place and continue to work with them so we can have fresh cow’s milk available.”
While the GLDA staff are working remotely due to COVID-19, they continue to address the needs of stakeholders and farmers.
Note: Ante-mortem inspection is the inspection of live animals prior to being slaughtered
—to reduce market crowds
─M&CC drafts proposal
Farmers markets are currently being reviewed as alternatives to ensuring there is adherence to health advisories on social distancing in the fight to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
During a virtual meeting hosted by the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) with key stakeholders, Georgetown Mayor His Worship Pandit Ubraj Narine said a proposal was drafted that seeks to establish farmers markets across various constituencies.
This proposal which has been submitted to the Ministry of Communities will be amended and submitted for further review by the CDC, the Ministry of Finance and other stakeholders.
One of the main amendments will see a measured layout of alternative farmers markets for several constituencies within Georgetown.
Another adjustment will include costs associated with the sanitation of these locations.
While the number of days and operational hours are to be determined, the stakeholders proposed D’Urban Park be used as one of the sites for the farmers market. It was determined the Department of Social Cohesion will be engaged in subsequent discussions since it has oversight for D’Urban Park.
It was further agreed the market will only accommodate wholesale and retail sales of fresh produce, inclusive of vegetables, fruits and provisions.
Suggestions for alternative venues for farmers market were first aired at the National Stakeholder Forum, held April 6, 2020.
—despite Coronavirus pandemic
The Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) is confident of excellent rice production this year despite the novel coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday, GRDB’s General Manager, Nizam Hassan, disclosed that all quality assurance services continue to operate as usual since rice exportation is ongoing.
Speaking to DPI, Hassan said with the expected production his agency is confident that there will be adequate supplies for local, regional, and extra-regional markets.
“We don’t expect that there will be any fallbacks from our projections, and for this year just as we had done last year, we expect that we will get over 1 million tonnes of paddy, which will be equivalent to approximately 700,000 tonnes rice.
“We have already harvested over 50 percent of the crop, and the yields are just over 6 tonnes per hectare, a point one percent more than Guyana’s national average in 2019,” Hassan said.
However, he noted that due to the current disease outbreak globally, there have been setbacks in exporting rice to some European countries including Italy and France. But that has been offset by a 40 percent increase in exports to Latin American countries.
“This was primarily because of the jump in our exports to Venezuela.”
“While there have been fallouts in some of the markets and some of it is linked to COVID-19, other markets are relatively stable,” the General Manager stated.
Now that most agencies are working remotely and fewer hours daily, rice millers and exporters are encouraged to inform GRDB a few days in advance about the processing of their documents.
GRDB has implemented several measures to help in stopping the spread of the virus.
Hassan explained that experiments at the Burma Rice Research Station are closing off since the crop is at the harvesting stage and most of the work currently ongoing is data gathered to be analysed.
The agency’s extension services continue to operate strictly on an on-call and rotational basis.
Extension officers liaise with farmers as the need arises, to obtain harvesting data, monitor for paddy bugs and advise farmers accordingly.
Hand sanitisers have also been placed at entry points of the GRDB office, and the World Health Organization’s advisories are up at strategic locations where staff and visitors could see them.