PM talks plant health at international forum

POSTED: 07/18/13 12:09 PM

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The international delegates gathered at the 6th annual Caribbean Plant Health Directors Forum yesterday at the Belair Community Center. The 3 day forum ends Friday. Photo Today/Milton Pieters

St. Maarten – “This gathering is a good one,” said Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams as she welcomed a group of 55 international attendees at the 6th annual Caribbean Plant Health Directors Forum(CPHDF) at the Belair Community Center yesterday; however, she encouraged the delegates to do more “than sit here in a room,” because, she added, “this matter of plant health, agriculture, and food security is an important issue,” with local, regional, and global implications on the supply of food. “When we talk about climate change and sustainable development we automatically include our food.”

According to the CPHDF’s newsletter, the forum “is largely the result of efforts by the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (USDA/APHIS) and the Caribbean Community (Caricom), with support from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). A critical goal of the forum is to increase communication and the transparent exchange of phyto-sanitary information among Caribbean countries in order to better prevent or combat threats to the health of plant life in the region.”

The prime minister also pointed out that “St. Maarten is a case study” in the fight against invasive species and the health of the region’s plant life because it’s a busy hub with millions of people and large quantities of goods passing through its gates of entry. “St. Maarten can boast of being a hub for the region” with its busy airport and attractive deep water harbor. “It’s not hard to find someone from your own country,” living here the prime minister said to the assembled delegates.

The three day forum gathers government officials and experts in the agricultural sector to discuss and coordinate cross-country strategies in protecting plant species and crops from disease and invasive species, like the giant African land snail and the red palm weevil, which is devastating to the coconut industry.

St. Maarten’s Secretary-General of Economic Affairs, Miguel de Weever, introduced representatives from the USDA/APHIS, Caricom, and the FAO to the rest of the forum at the 3 day event. Various representatives from regional agricultural departments and ministries across the Dutch, English, French, and Spanish speaking Caribbean also attended. The Deputy Director of the Department of Civil Aviation, Shipping and Maritime Affairs, Shaka Lake, attended as a representative of the St. Maarten delegation. The representative for the USDA, Jennifer Lemly, reminded everyone that “the battle to safeguard the region from invasive species never ceases.”

The forum concludes on Friday. More information on the forum can be found on the IICA website www.iica.int .

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