Caribbean must aim to become more food secure – President Ali

– Says political will, financing required to develop the Region’s food systems

His Excellency Dr Irfaan Ali urged CARICOM member states today be aggressive in their suggestions, programmes and plans in addressing food security issues within the Region.

The Head of State made this passionate statement during his address at CARICOM’s Regional Food Systems virtual dialogue. The event is a precursor to the United Nations 2021 Food Systems Summit slated for September, as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

“We cannot continue to eat third quality or second quality food when we can produce first quality food. We have to be brave; we have to be brave in addressing these issues. We can’t walk along the sidelines anymore. We have to confront these issues as a region. And importantly, we all have to commit to doing our bit in relation to climate change. But more importantly, we are perhaps the region that is affected in a worse way in terms of climate-related disasters, and if we assess international financing that comes our way it leaves much to be desired.”

His Excellency Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali, President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana

Food security, climate resilience, and financing were the primary areas of focus when stakeholders from across the Region met at the summit.  President Ali is the lead Head-of-Government in the CARICOM Quasi Cabinet with responsibility for Agriculture.

The President acknowledged that all three thematic areas covered are critical to ensuring that the Region’s commitment to the SDGs is not undone.


 He noted that the immediate challenge facing the Region is the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of which are not limited to health and human safety, but extend to all areas of member states’ economies, including their food systems.

Notwithstanding, the President said that CARICOM has been engaged in strengthening regional food systems and regional food security even before the pandemic to ensure “stable and sustainable food supplies at all times”. 

“The leadership of the Caribbean Community has been proactive in responding to the effects of the pandemic, including in respect to our food systems. At the 32nd Inter-Sessional Conference of the Heads of the Government of the Caribbean Community, held in February 2021, a strategy entitled ‘Advancing the CARICOM Agri-Food Systems Agenda; Prioritising Regional Food and Nutrition Security’ was proposed and endorsed.”

Added to this, a Special Ministerial Task Force on food production and food security was established to follow-up and monitor the implementation of the ‘Strategy’.   The Task Force, he added, has since met twice, with key priority areas being addressed to drive the transformation of the agri-food system.

These priority areas include; the complete removal of all technical barriers to trade; the implementation of an E-agriculture strategy; investments in production, research and development; measures to promote de-risking of the sector; and the improvement of transport and logistics.


He added that given the Region’s high food import bill, estimated at more than US$4B per annum, the Caribbean’s high dependence on food imports leaves it vulnerable to external shocks caused by sudden spikes in food commodity prices, as is the current situation. As such, he emphasised that the Caribbean must aim at becoming more food secure.

“This exercise must be sustained and must involve increased production of foods consumed within the Region. It must also entail increased intra-regional trade in agricultural commodities. The dismantling of barriers to the trade in agricultural commodities will enhance regional food security. If the Region is to become more food secure, it has to begin to source more of its food needs from within the Caribbean, and this will require the removal of unnecessary non-tariff barriers to intra-regional trade.”

The President said that the Region is not short of solutions for improving food security with a wealth of information readily available through proposals, reports, studies and regional strategies.

“The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), for example, has said that if the Caribbean is to achieve the goal of zero-hunger, the Region’s food-supply chain has to be redesigned to include food security as well as water and energy, given that agriculture is highly dependent on both water and energy.

“IICA also correctly pointed to the need for a shift to greater agricultural value-added production. The Jagdeo Initiative had identified ten key binding constraints to the development of Regional agriculture. The solution exists. What is required is the political will and the financing to give effect to what needs to be done to develop the Region’s food systems. I believe that the time has come, and the time is ripe for us to do so.”


President Ali added that the Caribbean Region faces many challenges in developing a competitive agri-food system that can contribute to the achievement of its food security and economic goals including the Region’s vulnerability to the adverse effects of climate change – rising sea levels, extreme weather events and other natural disasters.

“As I speak to you, my country, along with Suriname, is battling floods. In parts of the country, many of the agricultural lands are underwater. A number of our regions have been subject to torrential rainfall, which has resulted in flooding, which in turn, has led to losses of crops and livestock. Suriname is also been affected similarly.”

It is therefore imperative, he stressed, that attention be given to building climate resilience in order to transform the Region’s agri-food system.


Importantly, the President said that progress towards achieving the SDGs requires a commitment from all member states to affirmative action in respect to climate change.

With regards to the challenge of financing, he pointed to the Jagdeo Initiative, and the binding constraints identified therein to Regional agricultural development. Foremost among those constraints was limited financing and new investments in the sector. The ‘Initiative’ proposed the development of a fund to modernise regional agriculture.

“Financing for regional agriculture cannot be divorced from financing for climate reliance,” the President pointed out. “Environmental threats impact the Region’s food systems. Financing for mitigation and adaptation to climate change is more critical today than ever before and is necessary to protect the Region’s food systems.”

 The success of these efforts, he reiterated, depends on the degree of international support received, especially with respect to financing for the building of an agricultural sector that is more resilient.

President Ali emphasised that the Caribbean must therefore seize the opportunity of the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit to link greater resilience for its food systems with increased access to financing for sustainable development and the environment.

He said that the Region must also add its voice to the appeal for the full implementation of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development; greater grant-based financing for adaptation, and the establishment of a Climate Change Vulnerability Fund; greater ambitions under the National Determined Contributions of the Paris Agreement on climate change; and the operationalising of the REDD Plus Mechanism for trading in carbon credits.

“If the Caribbean is to remain committed to the SDGs, it will require greater attention be paid to its food systems, especially in terms of ensuring food security, combating the threats posed by climate change and being able to mobilise financing for climate-resilient agriculture. If there ever has been a time for us as CARICOM to act decisively and as a cohesive unit, it is now – in light of the need to ensure that we do not deviate from our commitment to the SDGs.”

This ‘Dialogue’, he added in closing, is therefore timely and relevant as it prepares countries for the United Nations Food Systems Summit, and also forces them to focus on thematic concerns which are critical to the Region’s survival.

President Ali commended the Secretary-General and the Secretariat of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) for hosting the Regional Food Systems Dialogue, while he welcomed the participation of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), the respective United Nations Resident Coordinators and the World Food Programme. Minister of Agriculture, Honourable Zulfikar Mustapha, who is also Chair of the Special Ministerial Taskforce on Food Production and Food Security, Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley and representatives from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) also made brief remarks during the virtual event.