By Fareeza Haniff in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
As part of efforts to ensure the Caribbean is food secure, the United States government has pledged US$5.5 million (or about GY $1.1 billion) in funding to help small farmers.
The announcement was made by United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken on Wednesday during his address to the Heads of Government of CARICOM at a special meeting of the 45th session being held in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
“Today, I’m pleased to announce that we’ll dedicate additional nearly five and a half billion dollars to help small farmers in the Caribbean, boost productivity, increase access to technology markets and adopt climate-smart practices…” Blinken said.
Blinken did not say how this funding will be distributed among the Caribbean countries.
He, however, acknowledged concerns about the high cost of eating healthily in the Caribbean.
This hefty cost is among the reasons Caribbean leaders want to slash the region’s US$6 billion annual food import bill.
Food insecurity has been a pressing issue for CARICOM and it has taken up much of the discussions during the general meeting. It was also raised by the CARICOM caucus at the IX Summit of the Americas, prompting several engagements with the US since.
As a matter of fact, Guyana’s President, Dr Irfaan Ali, who is the lead Head of Government for agriculture in CARICOM, on Tuesday presented a detailed report to Heads of State titled ‘Advancing the CARICOM Agri-Food System Agenda-Prioritizing Regional Food and Nutrition Security.’
And as part of his presentation, he highlighted the urgent need for more investments in infrastructure to support food production and building storage capacity.
Responding to Blinken’s annoucement, President Ali said the funds will strenghten ongoing efforts.
“… I think that what we have to do now is move towards ensuring the disbursements are made and implementation is done because we can’t afford to for things to be locked in bureaucracy.
“So we have to ensure that we are strong in pushing these projects forward,” he said.
Since assuming his role in CARICOM, Ali has launched an aggressive campaign to reduce the region’s annual US$6 billion food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025.
Meanwhile, the US government official also used the opportunity to remind CARICOM leaders that they can continue to rely on the United States as a strong partner.
“You can count on America being by your side, as a neighbour, as a partner, as a friend and as together, we work to genuinely believe and forge the future of our community,” Blinken said.
The US also committed to addressing the issue of Climate Change, acknowledging that the Caribbean is facing the brunt of the impact even though it contributed little to it.
“We have a unique responsibility in the United States to address this problem…We’ve been working relentlessly to prevent a climate catastrophe.
“We’re working to build greater resilience and adaptation to climate change while accelerating the region’s transition,” Blinken highlighted.
The US Secretary of State also recommitted to expanding access to international finance by pressing financial institutions to allow countries to defer debt payments in the event of climate shocks and national disasters.