Reducing the Caribbean’s expensive food import bill, which is more than US $4 billion annually, has been a key focus of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and a suite of measures proposed by Guyana’s President Dr. Irfaan Ali could see the region saving millions by growing more food.
President Ali is currently attending the Thirty-Third Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM in Belize.
Much focus has been placed on Guyana’s work as the Lead CARICOM country on agriculture and efforts to cut food import costs.
And on Tuesday, the first day of the meeting, the Guyanese President provided a detailed food security proposal to his colleagues which would allow the region to reduce the massive import bill by 25 per cent by 2025.
According to information provided to the News Room, President Ali told the other Heads of Government that there has been concrete progress in access to financing for agriculture investment financing through an initiative called the CARICOM Sustainable Agriculture Credit Facility.
Through this initiative, low- cost financing will be provided to fund numerous agricultural activities including the development of priority crops, procuring capital equipment for farming, establishing feeder roads to provide access to arable lands, creating bulk storage for crops, processing plants, and shade house farming initiatives.
Republic Bank Limited, a regional bank, will be the lender.
And importantly, funding up to GY $2 billion to Guyana and US $100 million (or GY $20 billion) to all CARICOM states can be provided with interest rates as low as 2.5 per cent.
These sums, the President indicated, can be repaid over a maximum of five years.
Meanwhile, the President also outlined the significant contributions made over the one-year lifespan of the Special Ministerial Taskforce on agriculture, which is chaired by Guyana.
In the area of de-risking the agriculture sector, this Taskforce reportedly received an insurance proposal from the Grace Kennedy Insurance Company Limited (Jamaica), and has started the first stage of implementation.
The News Room understand that the Taskforce has also commenced exploring public-private partnership models for transportation and logistics.
In addition to these specific initiatives, President Ali presented an assessment of each country’s agricultural sector, illustrating how the production of crops and other produce can be increased to meet regional demands. This increased production is expected to cut the amount of food imported.
The News Room understands that Dr. Ali reported that coffee, cocoa, coconut, spices, hemp (industrial), and palm oil are high-value imported into CARICOM with potential for development in the region.
And with production set to increase between 25 per cent and 700 per cent in some countries, the Guyanese Head- of-State emphasised that countries’ spending on agriculture needs to increase.
He promised that Guyana’s spending on agriculture would increase to about 10 per cent of the National Budget by 2025.
President Ali also highlighted the global developments and its implication in the agricultural implications in the region.
Given the critical need for improved connectivity to foster the easy movement of cargo, President Ali also spoke to the issue of ‘Improving CARICOM Food Security through Enhanced Maritime Transport.’
According to a Facebook post made by CARICOM, the Heads of Government of CARICOM “strongly endorsed” Guyana’s proposals.