The Region’s food insecurity was the center of attention at the recently concluded Agri Investment Forum and Expo hosted by the Government of Guyana and the CARICOM Secretariat. The event was geared towards the promotion, engagement, and dialogue among key stakeholders along the agri-food value chain on how investment could be encouraged. Leaders agreed that increased investment in agriculture and food production is critical for reducing the almost US$6 billion regional food bill and achieving the 25% by 2025 food import reduction target.
Much of the data points to the fact that CARICOM is operating below its potential to feed itself – making it one of the most food dependent regions in the world. The global economic conditions precipitated by COVID-19 and the Russia/Ukraine conflict coupled with the impacts of climate change have compounded the debilitating impacts on primary production, rising food prices and disruptions to key supply chains. The findings of the fourth round of the CARICOM Caribbean COVID 19 Food Security and Livelihoods Impact survey reveal that 2.75 million people (39%) out of 7.1 million in the English-speaking Caribbean are food insecure.
Heads of Government that participated in the Forum resolved to achieve the CARICOM target of reducing the import bill by 25%, the following 4 areas must be urgently addressed.
Firstly, the Agriculture Plan proposed by Guyana’s President and Lead of Agriculture in the CARICOM Quasi-Cabinet, Dr. Irfaan Ali in March 2022 will be fast tracked. The Ministerial Task Force on Food Security will propose an implementation schedule for consideration at the next Heads of Government Meeting set for July in Suriname. The plan targets the commercialization of the following priority commodities: poultry, corn, soybeans and rice for feed production, meat (beef, pork and mutton), niche vegetables, herbs and spices, roots and tubers, fruits and coconut products.
Intra-regional trade and an inadequate sea and air transportation system continue to be major hindrances to industry development. Barbados’ Prime Minister, Mia Mottley together with the Quasi-Cabinet responsible for transport and agriculture will also table a proposal on the development of a sustainable transportation network at the next Heads of Government meeting. This proposal will be done in concert with the Caribbean private sector, international donor community and multilateral agencies.
Many regional leaders gathered in Guyana bemoaned the existence of trade barriers and in particular non-tariff barriers which inhibits intraregional movement of agriculture produce. Prime Minister of Belize and Chairman of CARICOM, John Briceño, in his remarks at the Opening Ceremony said “It is time to remove the technical trade barriers that most Caribbean countries impose on each other.”
Prime Minister Mia Mottley is responsible for the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) in the Quasi-Cabinet setup and is tasked with leading the development of a proposal to present at the Special Meeting of Heads.
Lastly, it was agreed that priority would be given to empower women and youths so they can increase their contribution to the development of the agriculture sector. The CARICOM Secretariat has been authorized to commission a study to increase the participation of women and youth by at least 20% by 2025. Access to finance, contract farming and technology utilization are some of the areas that would be addressed in the proposal.
During the three day Forum, CARDI also participated in several of the side events including the expo. Noting Guyana’s thrust to promote cross border investments the Institute took the opportunity to highlight its successful seed commercialization programme for soybean, hot peppers and corn. Corn and soybean in particular have been targeted to reduce the Region’s food import bill since they are imported as intermediate inputs in the manufacturing of animal feed.
On the second day, Executive Director, Ansari Hosein spoke on “Developing the Regional Coconut Industry” and gave some insights into the ongoing work under the European Union (EU)/CARIFORUM financed project currently being implemented by CARDI and the International Trade Center (ITC). Hosein noted that the coconut industry is expanding with regional production projected to move from more than 313, 000 tonnes in 2010 to more than 726,000 tonnes in 2023. He noted while some successes have been achieved under the project there are still bottlenecks along the value chain that needs to be collectively addressed. High on the agenda are the issues relating to poor agricultural practices, quality planting material and access to appropriate equipment, capital and trade barriers.
The Expo attracted over 300 exhibitors, CARDI highlighted its commercial seed production programme while the Institute’s subsidiary the Caribbean Agricultural Commercial Services Hub (CACSH) focused on the work they are doing to develop the Ebini – Integrated Agribusiness Project. Over ten coconut agro processors from across the Region were also supported to attend the Expo to showcase their product range and business models. Support was provided under the Alliances for Caribbean Coconuts II funded by the European Union and CARIFORUM.