WELL DONE: Express photographer Jermaine Cruickshank (Best Feature Photograph), left, and reporter Sue-Ann Wayow (Best News Story) flank Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj after receiving their prizes at the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture and Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (IICA/Cardi) Media Awards for Excellence in Agricultural Journalism on Saturday at Capital Plaza, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain. —Photo: AYANNA KINSALE

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Minister praises media

By by Michelle Loubon

Media coverage of the agricultural sector has the potential to spur investment, innovation, agri-entrepreneurship and stimulate general interest in the sector.
So said Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj while delivering the feature address on Saturday at the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture and Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (IICA/Cardi) 2013 Media Awards for Excellence in Agricultural Journalism awards ceremony at Capital Plaza, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain.
Maharaj lauded the entire media fraternity for its critical and thought-provoking coverage of the agricultural sector from 2009 to 2013. A total of 50 entries were submitted for the panel’s deliberation on the theme “Food Security In Our Hands/Linking Policies and Practices.” The awards ceremony was also held against the backdrop of the International Year of Family Farms.
Maharaj said: “We are the only Caricom country that has these awards. The potential (agriculture) often goes unrecognised and, as a result, is untapped. This is where you, the media, come in. You determine what is newsworthy. You shape how citizens see the world around them. You influence what citizens see as important or not. The power you hold is immense and undeniable.”
Maharaj added: “There is still much more work that can be done. The complex issue of food security must be made a burning issue. After all, we must eat to live. I look forward to the media playing an even greater role in disseminating information to the public and playing your role in thrusting the agriculture sector forward on our journey towards becoming a food secure nation.”
Commenting on the quality of submissions, Maharaj said “There should be equality of treatment. Sensations sells. But I plead for a little bit of equality for those who write other types of stories. Turn the spotlight to positive growth in the agricultural sector.” He complimented journalists Adrian Boodan and Sasha Harrinanan for their coverage of the sector.
Maharaj said the issue of food security should not be left solely to the ministry, farmers or fisherfolk. He said: “Food security is a crosscutting issue and must involve other ministries, Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), private sector, and civil society for its successful implementation.”
He then spoke about the successful work which had been undertaken by the ministry in the Medium Term Policy Framework 2011 to 2014 and the National Food Action Plan 2012 to 2015.
The minister said: “As a result of partnership with indigenous smallholder farms, the agriculture sector expanded by 5.1 per cent in 2013 from 2012. The contribution of agriculture to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased by 77 per cent from 2009 to 2013. There has been a two per cent reduction in food imports from 2010 to 2013. The food inflation rate also continues to be single digits for the fifth consecutive month, at 7.3 per cent in November 2013.”
Gregg CE Rawlins, IICA representative in Trinidad and Tobago, welcomed the segment Citizen Journalist, and said there was the need to boost awareness of mainstream issues, including food security.
A note on the pamphlet said: “The Citizen Journalist category is gaining momentum and is succeeding in fostering youth participation.” The category was won by Kevonne Kerr.
Executive director, Cardi, Dr H Arlington D Chesney, said he was pleased at “the quantity and quality of the entrants.” Chesney also said “the media has given a powerful voice to farmers and fisherfolk in their challenges for improved public and private support and more favourable regulations.”
Floor member, Association of Caribbean Media Workers, Jabari Fraser, who is also a TV6 reporter, said his colleagues had moved beyond “cow and goat stories”. They were bent on making a concerted effort to produce “food stories that affect us all”.
Secretary of the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago Akash Samaroo said, “Agriculture is sexy and food is sexy.”
Samaroo also said it was a “win-win” for both the agricultural sector and the media if they continued to partner to disseminate information on food security and the role agriculture plays in national development.
Linda Hutchinson-Jafar, editor of Earth Conscious Magazine, delivered the vote of thanks.
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