CARICOM Heads in full support of Guyana-led regional food security initiative
By Kurt Campbell
At least three regional Heads of Government on Friday signalled their intention to travel to Guyana in May 2022 when a massive Agriculture Investment Forum and Expo will be held in Georgetown from May 19 -21.
Among them is John Antonio Briceño of Belize, who is also the current Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM); Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, and Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves.
The regional event, launched at the Arthur Chung Conference Center (ACCC) in Georgetown on Friday, is in keeping with a CARICOM decision to reduce the region’s food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025 with the aim of promoting and improving the productivity and resilience of the region’s agriculture food systems.
It flows from a proposal made by Guyana’s Head of State Dr. Irfaan Ali at the recent 33rd Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM in Belize.
In a recorded message, Dr. Gonsalves said St Vincent and the Grenadines will be represented at the event and hopes that all of CARICOM will attend.
“More than ever, we have to build agriculture and feed ourselves in this region and Irfaan Ali has a plan and we need to interrogate that plan and it also requires investments, not only from the States, by also the private sector from the region and globally,” Dr. Gonsalves said.
His statement was backed up by Mottley, who spoke virtually to the gathering at the ACCC.
The Barbadian Prime Minister recalled the ‘Jagdeo initiative’, put forward over a decade ago by former President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo which included a strategy for removing constraints to the development of agriculture in the Caribbean.
“We believe then that it was possible for us to reduce our import bill for food by 25 per cent and we needed to put things in place… I want to urge all of us that we didn’t know then, we know now… that we would face regrettably now a threat to food security.
“We have a solemn obligation to feed our people… this is now our mission,” Mottley said.
She hopes that the event in Guyana in May will be well attended and the region can push forward with achieving the vision ‘25 by 2025’. Barbados is set to welcome a large Guyanese delegation in Bridgetown also in May for Agro Fest which Barbados will use to send the signal that they are with the vision fully.
“We intend not only to talk the talk but to walk the talk,” Mottley added.
Also in a pre-recorded message, Briceño welcomed the renewed focus on the regional agricultural agenda. He said if there had been no urgency in action before across the Caribbean, the wide-ranging socio effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the need for action.
“The strategy before us by Dr. Ali…requires a deliberate and concerted action at the national and regional levels,” the CARICOM Chairman asserted.
Meanwhile, Secretary-General of CARICOM Dr. Carla Barnett believes the excitement of regional leaders for the Guyana-led initiative has been understated, emphasising that there was real support for Dr. Ali’s proposal.
“There is no better time than now to do what is needed to better withstand future crises as a region; whether those crises be disasters or supply chain bottlenecks,” Dr. Barnett said.
Dr. Ali himself spoke at the launch and thanked all those who have offered critical support to the agri-investment forum and expo. He said ‘25 by 2025’ was no longer a dream or an objective but now a reality that must be accomplished.
He reminded that agriculture was a founding economic base for several CARICOM states and the region must return to it.
“We have divested ourselves from this [agriculture]. We have been forced out in some instances because of climate change and natural disasters and then we have simply been lackadaisical in some instances,” Dr. Ali said as he urged shared responsibility among regional countries for the failures over the years.
“The time is right; we must now embrace it.”
Dr. Ali said the region’s political leaders have tied themselves to a time frame which is an indication of how serious they are.
“We didn’t leave this as an open-ended discussion…we now look forward to the support of all of you in the region, in the private sector. In the field of food production and distribution to work with us.” Dr. Ali added.
He said with the commitment of regional leaders set in this direction, the private sector and business must change their model of importation to support this.