By Vishani Ragobeer
Guyana’s President Dr. Irfaan Ali has been praised for his proposals to cut the Caribbean’s massive food import bill and boost regional food production but private sector investment is seen as a crucial component in advancing those plans.
This is according to Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley who addressed questions from the News Room at the closing press conference of the Thirty-Third Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM in Belize on Wednesday night.
The Prime Minister related that President Ali has been able to advance talks on securing low-cost financing for agricultural investments throughout the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Through this initiative, 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.
And these sums can be repaid over a maximum of five years. But Prime Minister Mottley explained that this arrangement is “effectively being offered to governments” to help farmers boost production.
With President Ali outlining how countries can significantly expand their food production, thereby adding to the volume of food produced in the region, Mottley reasoned that private sector-led investments will be crucial.
As such, she highlighted that a regional investment conference will be held in Georgetown, Guyana from May 19 to 21, this year.
“This is a necessary prerequisite for going further because, without money, we won’t have the ability to help the farmers,” the Barbadian Prime Minister said.
Already, there is regional private sector interest in tapping into the Caribbean’s multibillion-dollar food market.
Prime Minister Mottley related that the Caribbean Private Sector Organization (CPSO), a body that deems itself the apex private sector body in CARICOM, engaged the Heads of CARICOM on opportunities in the poultry industry.
According to information obtained by the News Room, the poultry sector is one key area that President Ali has urged CARICOM countries to tap into and boost their production.
This is because of the regional demand for poultry products and because nearly all of the region’s poultry products are imported.
And Belize’s Prime Minister John Antonio Briceño told reporters that “there is no need for us to be importing poultry.”
He also related that all the CARICOM Heads had “embraced” President Ali’s proposals for regional food security, emphasising that if the Caribbean is able to cut its food import bill, more money can be spent on growing the economies of countries.
“The important and stimulating presentation by President Ali for boosting food production that was embraced by all,” Briceño told the news conference.
Dr. Ali’s analysis of the agricultural sectors across the Caribbean was crafted from information submitted by 10 countries – Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, the Bahamas, Guyana, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Montserrat, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.
And it forms part of his well-commended thrust for cutting the region’s massive import bill – pegged at more than US $4 billion annually- by 25 per cent by 2025.
President Ali is the Lead Head of Government for agriculture in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Quasi-Cabinet.