“Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers” – 2 Corinthians 1: 9-11.

The 12th full edition (the 17th including five shorter versions) of the Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism – launched by Counterpart International in 2001 – attracted more than 100 reporters, editors, young people and development specialists who interacted face-to-face with representatives of the hospitality sector, civil society and government and explored the theme “Embracing the Diaspora: Connecting Communities”.  The event was superbly hosted by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company and a major feature was the significant initiatives and contributions made by the youth delegates to the interactive dialogue.

One week after the conclusion of CMEx XII, the Barbados Society of Technologists in Agriculture “Embraced the Diaspora” by hosting Guyanese born Professor Chandra Madramootoo, Dean of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, McGill University, Montreal, Canada. The Dean addressed an audience of over 75 persons on the hot topic of “The Global Food Crisis and the Caribbean Context” and concluded by identifying the risks which we must protect against if we are to systematically move along the spectrum from peril to stability.

Incidentally, any reader who has not had the “YouTube” experience of viewing a speech by Severn Suzuki (a 13 year-old girl representing the Environmental Children’s Organisation) at the UN Earth Summit in 1992 should avail themselves of this opportunity at www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZsDliXzyAY. Also, here in the Caribbean from a tiny island off Puerto Rico there was a powerful message from the Vieques Youth Leadership Initiative 2020 Report for Sustainable Tourism at CMEX XII which can be sourced at www.vyli.com/accomplisments.html.

Chandra expertly traced the history of world hunger through the green revolution to the point where in certain parts of the world we took food for granted. Then, even though the vigilant would have observed an early warning, we are faced with seemingly sudden crises. These due to increasing fuel and food prices caused by an inequitable distribution of wealth, an unwillingness to share and the rapid shift in the use of agricultural land from food to bio-fuel to mitigate the dependence on fossil fuel as the primary source of energy. He concluded by shifting the scene to the Caribbean and delineating the risks which have to be protected against if we are to escape the peril and restore stability in the socio-economic landscape.

He listed 10 risks which should be addressed urgently in the Caribbean. Here is my synthesis of the spirit of his message regarding each point in turn: (1) Extreme weather events – this factor is driven by the external environment and the best we can do is to plan to practise disaster mitigation, recovery and management techniques; (2) Lack of skilled labour and highly qualified personnel – our human resource is our most important resource, we must develop it to the fullest and ensure that this development is synchronized with the manpower needs of the country; (3) Weak market and transportation structures – this has been recognized for years but we just tinker with it, it is time that we grab the bull by the horns and make a difference; (4) Lack of capital and insurance products for high risk ventures – we know that quick response seed & venture capital funds and insurance are important constraints to progress but yet we continue to do nothing about it – “vision without action is mere fantasy”; (5) Weak linkages between agriculture and other sectors of the economy – tourism is the largest sector of the economies of the Caribbean, yet there is all talk and little action;

(6) High cost of imported agricultural inputs and energy – introduce measures of biological control, where applicable, increase use of local waste materials as fertilsers, shift to greenhouse technology and aggressively pursue renewable energy options; (7) Weak R&D capacity – we do not need to engage in primary agricultural research, this is done around the world in sophisticated laboratories – we do need to roll out these results in our environment so that we can advise how they can be applied regionally to obtain the biggest impact; (8) Inadequate linkages between field production and agribusiness – agribusiness is farming engaged in as a large-scale business operation embracing the production, processing, and distribution of agricultural products – agribusiness permits us to derive the most from our agricultural output by reducing the waste from spoilage of the primary product; (9) Small size of operations – the countries of the Caribbean are small, but we must remember that “small is beautiful” and we must think out of the box and use our small size to our advantage; (10) Limited value added opportunities – there are limited value added opportunities but we have done well with rum and there is the unrealized potential for value added revenues from WI sea island cotton –  we must continually focus on how to add value to primary production.

We pray that He delivers us from our perils but we, in each territory of the Caribbean, must first act to combine our resources and mobilise vision and action to induce synergy and generate stability.