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Caribbean nations must embrace science and technology as tools for economic development, a conference in Trinidad and Tobago heard last week.

Arnoldo Ventura, scientific advisor to Jamaica's prime minister, told delegates that science was essential "to create new enterprises, ensure higher productivity, allow better environmental care and favour the creation of much needed jobs and the social harmony they will bring".

Ventura warned against leaders trying to solve complex problems with guesswork and "actions based on the loudest voices or the slickest public reactions".

"This is where a systematic scientific and evidence-based approach to problem solving becomes the most prudent way to proceed."

Ventura was speaking at a conference organised by CARICOM, the 15-member Caribbean Community and Common Market.

Delegates drew up an action plan for strengthening the region's scientific capacity, creating science policies in member states, and building links between Caribbean researchers and the wider scientific community.

The plan, which has yet to be finalised, includes boosting science teaching in schools, starting a regional science journal and creating sustainable ways to fund research.

Speaking at the beginning of the conference, Grenada's prime minister Keith Mitchell warned that after previous CARICOM meetings members had failed to follow up with action.

"We have retreated into silence, and after a while we return to these topics at another conference with renewed vigour only to lull into the next period of silence and inertia," he said.

"I raise this issue now because in fact I am concerned that we may be repeating history at this forum," he added, urging delegates not to let it happen again.

Mitchell said the region's main barrier to science development was its inability "to agree on and to implement a policy strategy and action plan for science, technology and innovation".

He also pointed to a lack of coordination between the region's scientific institutions. "This has led to more than two decades of inertia, wasted resources and duplication that have left us in the Caribbean scrambling to try to get a focus."

Link to declaration made at the CARICOM meeting  [27KB]

Link to opening address by Harold Ramkissoon, executive secretary of Cariscience  [28KB]

Link to full speech by Keith Mitchell