By Kurt Campbell
The regional momentum towards food security as a whole was revived on Thursday as Heads of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) look forward to significant investments in the coming months flowing from the ongoing Guyana piloted Agri Investment Forum and Expo.
Joined by seven other CARICOM Heads of Government at the National Cultural Centre in Georgetown, President Dr. Irfaan Ali pressed the need for shared action if the Caribbean Community is to achieve its ‘25 by 2025’ goal.
That goal is geared towards reducing CARICOM’s food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025 – a target that regional heads have agreed is realistic while acknowledging the required action.
Dr. Ali believes such a forum is important as the regional import situation worsens and its nutrition security leaves much to be desired.
While reasoning that it was not yet frightening, the Guyanese Head of State said leaders must work together to “correct the imbalance and be prepared to achieve the target of 25 by 2025.”
“We cannot lose this momentum,” Dr. Ali admonished.
“We cannot continue the importation of billions of dollars in products when we can produce right here locally,” he added.
But according to Dr. Ali, the responsibility is a shared one to overcome the challenges, some of which he believes are self-imposed.
Apart from financing – which the President believes is now a thing of the past – logistics and transport setbacks, Dr. Ali said leaders must now work to remove trade barriers that exist.
The Guyanese leader has long talked about this and on Thursday, he publicly urged his counterparts to agree on a strategy for streamlining procedures for import and export.
“A standardised process,” Dr. Ali reiterated as he also encouraged incentives for agriculture stakeholders and financial institutions.
“Today, we send a strong singular message that together we are ready to move forward in every aspect of the food production system of the region.”
The Guyanese Head of State said with global production declining and regional consumption expanding, Guyana has started the course towards supporting the regional agenda.
Among the action is an expansion of industries and an increase in the production of poultry, corn, soya, vegetables and rice among others.
The President said with the consumption of some of these products doubling by 2030, it is important to take action now to ensure that the region’s food import bill, which stands at over US$4 billion, doesn’t expand but shrink, lest it cost the region more in the future.
Dr. Ali said his government has begun its partnership with the private sector to build a consortium with farmers and young people to produce high-value crops with the government pumping millions of dollars into these projects.
“We are matching targets with incentives from the government,” President Ali said as he highlighted investments in aquaculture, wheat research, production and infrastructure, such as farm to market roads, along with partnerships with other regional states.
Guyana is also investing in marine cage technology and fertiliser production with plans to reduce the cost of energy as an incentive to encourage agro-processing.