‘Life or death’ need for investments in Caribbean’s billion-dollar market
By Vishani Ragobeer
Global challenges – be it the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine/ Russia war or climate change – have spotlighted just how vulnerable the Caribbean region is.
As such, technology-smart investments that respond to the region’s food needs, are key to the very survival of Caribbean people.
This is the view of Deodat Maharaj, the Executive Director of the Caribbean Export Development Agency, who spoke to the News Room on Friday, at the sidelines of the regional Agri-investment forum and expo hosted in Georgetown, Guyana.
“We heard yesterday from all the speakers and all the leaders speaking that, in essence, we are in the most food-insecure region on the planet and COVID-19 has laid bare this acute vulnerability,” Maharaj said.
He later emphasised, “… with COVID-19 and with Russia and Ukraine, what we see taking place is that food prices have skyrocketed. The very survival of our people is at stake and we cannot place our faith in external forces.”
So, what then?
Maharaj, through his organisation that promotes and facilitates private sector investment in the region, underscored the importance of investing in boosting regional food production and doing so by leveraging technology and the abundant foreign investment interest that exists.
“When we can convey that message that if you leverage technology…you can make money, you can create jobs and that’s the way you can attract young people into farming, not as farmers, but as business people because there is a lot of money to be made in farming across the Caribbean,” he explained.
The population of CARICOM and the Dominican Republic, Maharaj related, is about 29.2 million. And before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were about 30 million stay-over tourists in the region.
To feed these people, the region spends about US $5 billion importing food annually.
With this, he posited that there is no shortage of interest in investing in the Caribbean’s agricultural sector. This interest has been boosted by the regional thrust to cutting its food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025- a charge led by Guyana’s President Dr. Irfaan Ali.
There are several challenges, however, including an ageing population of farmers, slow infusion of technology and logistical and free-trade barriers. These are not impossible challenges to surmount, Maharaj said, noting that the impetus is strong.