Plant health officials meet to look at food availability

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, April 23, 2008 – Caribbean Plant Health officials begin a three-day meeting today to discuss a range of issues including positioning themselves to positively contribute to the issue of rising food prices.

During their inaugural talks, they will focus on access to and availability of food and will strategize on how to formulate the movement of plant and plant products across Caribbean countries.

Deputy Programmer Manager for Agriculture at the CARICOM Secretariat, Margaret Kalloo said that while countries are seeking to improve availability and access to food, countries need to be enabled to “more efficiently and effectively move agricultural products across the borders of the Caribbean countries”.

“There is tremendous potential for trade in plant and plant products in the Caribbean but the issue of plant pests is one which poses serious constraints to that potential for trade.  Therefore the focus is on seeking to find solutions for more effective prevention, management and control strategies for pest threats in the region,” she said.

With this in mind, the matter of invasive species will also be on the front burner as these continue to negatively impact on trade in plant and plant products in the Caribbean.

In the past the region has been faced with infestations of the Pink Hibiscus Mealybug which devastated crops such as okras, papaya and sorrel; Fruit Flies which impact on the export of most fruits and outbreaks of Black Sigatoka which continues to be a source of concern for banana producers.

Currently, Caribbean countries are faced with a serious attack on palms, including coconut trees with the outbreak of the Red Palm Mite. This has adversely affected the domestic trade in and national consumption of coconut water as prices have increased as a result of decreased production.

A proposal to deal with the issue of Invasive Species will be presented to the meeting which is being hosted by the CARICOM Secretariat in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS), Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and CIRAD, the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development.