By Kurt Campbell
Caribbean leaders have been urged by Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo to ensure they step up to the plate and drive the ambitious goal to drastically cut down on the importation of food products into the region by 2025.
He spoke at the Agri-Investment Forum and Expo on Friday where several Caribbean Prime Ministers travelled to Guyana for the event.
The former President’s 2005 proposal to CARICOM, named ‘The Jagdeo Initiative’, is the basis of the vision that seeks to reduce the region’s food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025. It also addresses the need for food security.
Dr Jagdeo delivered a feature address at the forum on Friday at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, where he noted that Guyana has already begun to do what needs to be done, in a practical way, to ensure the goal is achieved.
Similarly, he said each member state must act at the national level to contribute to the goal which requires an increased investment in agriculture by some US$7.5 billion which can yield an output of US$1.5 billion in the next three years.
“This process has to be driven by heads who are here in a very clear manner with clear direction,” Dr Jagdeo emphasised.
He said leaders must leave with timed decisions on the necessary high-level meetings to be led by the respective regional governments to discuss, among other things, a list of fiscal concessions for investors, along with decisions on how to grow projects and remove barriers to trade.
“That’s when we will actually achieve 25 by 2025; otherwise, we will fail,” Dr Jagdeo told the gathering at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre.
He said there was no question about the need for urgent intervention in the region’s agri-sector and food security ambitions even as he pointed out the consequences of not addressing the matter as a priority.
Dr Jagdeo, since 2005, some 17 years ago, had highlighted the constraints of food security and consequentially reducing the region’s food import bill.
It included limited and inadequate financing; outdated and inefficient agriculture and health food safety systems; inadequate research; a fragmented private sector; inefficacy of land and water distribution systems; deficient and uncoordinated risk management systems; inadequate transport; weak integrated information intelligence; weak marketing linkages and a lack of human resource.
Dr Jagdeo said while there has been some progress since then, the region is still a far way off from addressing them to finality.
“Unless these are addressed, they will not form or have an ideal framework for the growth of food security in region…we have to return to these tasks with the recognition will not be able to address them within the target period of the next three years,” the Vice President reasoned.
It is in this regard that Dr Jagdeo said national leadership is important and the task should be addressed at the level of Presidents and Prime Ministers and not be left up to any Ministry of Agriculture.
He said it requires large amounts of investment and the region is still a far way off from mobilising those resources even as he proposed a massive outreach and practical framework.
“We have political commitment but now it is about what each country has to do first at the national level before regional… we need a champion in each country for these measures,” the Vice President said.