By Kurt Campbell
Leading a regional dialogue on Friday as Head of Government in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Quasi Cabinet with responsibility for Agriculture, President Irfaan Ali has said that the first step to ensuring food security and sustainability is to eat local.
The virtual regional dialogue is a precursor to the United Nations 2021 Food Systems Summit being held in September as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
But Dr. Ali believes it presents a more important opportunity, in that it not only allows the region to synchronise its position in relation to the summit but also to once again examine solutions to strengthen food security and respond to threats posed by climate change.
The Guyanese Head-of-State, in a passionate appeal, said it is time that inhabitants of the Caribbean region remind themselves of the importance of eating local, regionally and utilising products from with CARICOM.
“We cannot continue to eat third quality or second quality when we can produce first quality… we have to be brave in addressing these issues. We can’t walk along the sidelines anymore,” Dr Ali said as he delivered the feature address during the regional dialogue.
Dr Ali was supported in his urgings by Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, who said that as efforts unfold to bring about food security in the region, it must be done in the right way, using food that will reduce the monies spent to fight non-communicable diseases.
“Not all food is good food and we need to come to grips with that… We have a rich history of using ground provisions and eating a lot of fish and things that are generally healthy but we have been sucked in by the glamour and glitz of a world that wants us to eat processed foods,” she said in a recorded statement.
Dr Ali explained that while efforts can be taken within the region to tackle food security, the Caribbean Community needs the help of external agencies especially in light of its vulnerability to climate change.
He called on member states to band together in strengthening the regional resolve in advocating for financing in order to develop food resilience.
Although delivering separate statements, in unison, the Guyanese Head-of-State and the Barbadian Prime Minister urged the dismantling of barriers to trade in regional agriculture commodities.
“We need to source more of our needs from within the Caribbean while we work on removing unnecessary barriers to trade,” Dr Ali noted.
He said the region is not short of solutions for improving food security with several studies and proposals in place, including the Jagdeo initiative.
“What is required is the political will and financing to do what needs to be done… financing for regional agriculture cannot be divorced from financing for climate resilience… and other threats to the region’s food systems. International support is also needed,” Dr Ali added.
The Regional Dialogue was hosted by the CARICOM Secretariat, in partnership with the United Nations Resident Coordinators, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).
Ideas, solutions, and action plans emanating from this dialogue will feed into the Global forum, as well as a pre-Summit event scheduled for July in Rome, to ensure that the voice of the Caribbean is well heard.
This event is taking place as countries worldwide seek to strengthen health and agri-food systems, in the wake of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Participants in Friday’s dialogue included the Ministers of Agriculture of Guyana, Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica and the Bahamas, representatives of CARICOM, IICA, OECS, the United Nations Development Coordination Office, WFP and FAO, as well as farmers groups, civil society organizations and the private sector.