Guyana has been tasked with leading efforts to reduce the Caribbean’s expensive food import bill and as Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government meet in Belize from Tuesday, these Guyana-led efforts will be a central focus.
CARICOM Secretary-General Dr. Carla Barnett, ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, told reporters that many discussions have been ongoing on how the region can boost agricultural production to reduce the amount of money spent on importing food.
CARICOM’s food import bill is more than US$4 billion annually. In Guyana, alone, about 40 per cent of the food consumed is imported.
The region’s food security was threatened during the COVID-19 pandemic as supply chain disruptions meant the food imports were challenged. Cognisant of this, the Government of Guyana has assumed the responsibility of finding ways to reduce this bill in CARICOM.
And with this responsibility, Dr. Barnett explained that Guyanese President Dr. Irfaan Ali has already engaged in some efforts locally to boost production.
“The key objective there is to place the community in a position to reduce the import of food into the community,” the CARICOM Secretary-General stated.
She later added, “… there are some interesting and important undertakings that he has made in terms of investing in things like protected agriculture, targeting the particular food items that we import on a regular basis and making investments in producing those.”
Already, the government has launched a new initiative, known as the Agriculture and Innovation Entrepreneurship Programme, to help boost food security. Through this programme, the government will provide all the resources and materials to develop 25 shade houses in the first phase that will grow three crops- carrots, broccoli and cauliflower– that are imported.
Why this is important is because in just three years, from 2018 to 2020, Guyana imported about $6 billion in carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. Now, however, young people can earn millions producing these in Guyana.
The Heads of Government are meeting at the Thirty-Third Inter-Sessional Meeting of Heads of Government of CARICOM, being hosted in Belize on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Dr. Barnett also highlighted that the long-awaited move towards creating a single economic space in the Caribbean through CARICOM’s Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), will be discussed at this meeting.
In fact, she said that a protocol to examine how some member states can move forward on specific aspects of economic cooperation that they agree on could be “the most important thing” discussed at the meeting.
“The feeling is if there can be like minds among a subset of countries and they want to move forward on a particular time, they ought to be able to move forward,” Dr. Barnett stated.
Matters of territorial integrity, including those relating to Guyana and Venezuela and Belize and Guatemala, in addition to climate change, regional security efforts and the situation in Ukraine could all be matters that are addressed by the Caribbean leaders as well.