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The road ahead for the OECS post-Covid

There is a financial and economic fall-out among member territories of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) due to the impact caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Several of the islands are currently experiencing a dramatic decline in economic activities including job losses.

The key tourism sector in most of the OECS member states has seen a steep drop in the vital tourism sector which brings in the bulk of their foreign exchange earnings.

The Economic Affairs Department of the OECS Secretariat has prepared a document for submission among member states highlighting some of the problems that will have to be confronted as the islands try to chart a course post-COVID.

As a public service, THE NEW TODAY highlights some of the major issues in the document:

INDUSTRY OBSERVATIONS AND KEY ASSUMPTIONS

  • As economic uncertainty grows, there will be greater reliance on domestically and regionally produced food;
  • The nature of the health crisis will incentivise greater interest in more nutritious alternatives to imported, processed food;
  • Customers will be forced to look for more cost-effective, nutrient-dense foods;
  • The agricultural sector has underperformed its true potential in the region;
  • Farmers have underutilised capacity, providing favourable conditions to increase production;
  • High probability the region will be affected by weather-related hazards over the next 12 months.

MEMBER STATES’ NATIONAL RESPONSES
OECS Member States have become cognisant that the COVID-19 crisis threatens to create far reaching food insecurity within the region. As noted in previous sections of this report, this situation could be further affected by disruptions in international trade and production.

Regionally, risks such as farmers being infected by the virus, consumers engaging in hoarding, and restrictions on the operating hours of food markets and the movement of people, among other factors, are expected to adversely affect the regional food security situation.

In anticipation of disruptions to the international food supply, many OECS Member States have developed National COVID-19 Agricultural Sector Response Plans. Additionally, a number of Member States have also started to roll out specific funding measures aimed at supporting the agricultural sector.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been at the forefront of this effort through the implementation of a Coronavirus Food Security and Impact Mitigation Plan. This comprehensive plan – which has emerged as a model for other Member States – highlights actionable measures in several critical areas necessary to keep the national food supply at optimal levels.

Furthermore, the plan addresses food security at both the household and commercial levels. The plan also seeks to export excess production to neighbouring islands.

The initiative is co-ordinated by the National Internal Food Security Council and is supported by a budget of EC$3.1 million.

Other Member States, including Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Lucia, are also conducting rapid assessments and forecasting exercises to determine measures to meet their own food security needs.

Measures mobilised as part of Dominica’s COVID-19 response include the implementation of the World Bank co-funded Emergency Agricultural Livelihoods and Climate Resilience Project which aims to provide direct input subsidies to the local farming community.

The rapid production of certain root crops and vegetables (including sweet potato and cassava) has also been mobilised through the Office of Disaster Management – Food Supplies Committee. Dominica is also making investments into livestock and poultry by providing inputs to farmers.

The Government of the British Virgin Islands has approved the Rapid Response Fishing and Farming Production Programme, a US$2 million package of support that seeks to revitalise fishing and agriculture in the territory.

Similarly, the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis has rolled out a EC$120 million COVID-19 stimulus package that includes a EC$10 million allocation aimed at boosting production in the agricultural sector.

The Government of Saint Lucia has also provided support to the agricultural sector through its Social Stabilisation Plan.

The package of support includes measures to increase productivity through the provision of inputs (fertilisers, seedlings, and other key components) to farmers to help increase supply to both domestic and regional markets.

The government has further pledged direct financial support to the sector through an infusion of EC$1 million into the National Fair Trade Organisation.

THE OECS REGIONAL SUPPORT STRATEGY
Working with both the CARICOM Secretariat and OECS Member States’ nationally-appointed Agriculture Focal Points, the OECS Commission has advocated for an approach that harmonises national responses into a co-ordinated regional effort.

As part of the response strategy, the OECS

Commission has formed a Working Group of Agriculture Focal Points with the following mandates:

  • To provide a forum for regional discussion and facilitate the sharing of best practice;
  • To formulate a cohesive regional food security response to COVID-19;
  • To periodically evaluate national responses to food security needs in Member States;
  • To facilitate the trade and transportation of food between Member States.

Additionally, the efforts of the working group include two critical areas for ensuring food security across the region:

BACKYARD FARMING
Household subsistence farming has the potential to improve the food and nutritional security of households by increasing food supply variety and reducing the need to purchase food.

Each Member State has been encouraged to make provisions for backyard farming in its response plans; interventions should include providing inputs such as seedlings and technical expertise to ensure that the efforts are successful.

The OECS Commission has contributed to this effort through the dissemination of a library of E-learning materials on backyard farming.

INTRA-REGIONAL TRADE
Responding to risks in the international food supply, the OECS Commission is providing technical assistance to Member States to revitalise intra-regional trade.

This requires concerted efforts to address issues such as the rapid harmonisation of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and an adjustment of trading fees for the duration of the crisis. Also, port protocols can be enhanced to support inter-regional trade.

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