By Kurt Campbell
As the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) puts focus on reducing its over US$4 billion food import bill, Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley believes a change in mindset among Caribbean citizens is necessary.
Addressing the opening of the Guyana piloted Agri-Investment Forum and Expo at the National Cultural Centre in Georgetown on Thursday, Mottley said some of the items imported and consumed in the region were offensive to an independent CARICOM.
Mottley, in her address, was not only pushing a ‘grow more’ agenda but made it clear that the region must also consume what it produces and ensure that visitors to this part of the world do the same.
“A crisis than no other is before us,” the Prime Minister said as she acknowledged the regional agenda to ensure food security and reduce the region’s food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025.
In fact, Mottley believes the goal should be more ambitious than that as she suggested a 50 per cent reduction by 2025 but to achieve any of those targets the Barbados PM said it will require the buy-in of every man and woman who make up the region’s 18 million population.
Mottley believes the region’s continued dependence on produce from elsewhere had amounted to a crisis, particularly with COVID-19, the supply chain setbacks and the war in Ukraine.
“As this crisis deepens…we don’t have the luxury to ignore it.”
The Barbadian leader said it was embarrassing that regional states have not owned their identity in food production as is evident in what they feed visitors from other parts of the world.
“We bring people here and want to feed them what they eat from where they come. Our responsibility is to give them a flavour that may entice them to return,” Mottley reasoned.
She said this will require the support of distributors and those involved in retail trade, restaurants and hotels as she drew attention to how juices are served in a tin after being imported from other parts of the world.
“This is offensive to an independent CARICOM. Where is the fresh juice from Dominica, Guyana or St Vincent? Where? We need a change in mindset,” she lobbied.
Clearly passionate about this issue, Mottley said CARICOM States, including Barbados, must be more agile in scrutinizing what goods are imported into the region even as she challenged member states to not only produce for the Caribbean, but also for other parts of the world.
Mottley said after COVID 19, the supply chain issues which have affected shipping and the war in Ukraine, she doesn’t believe CARICOM needs any more lessons on what actions need to be taken and taken now.
“My friends what more do we need to see… we are simply not large enough to be seen and loud enough to be dealt with individually or collectively, Mottley added as she impressed the critical importance of not local production but consumption of what is produced within the region.