CARICOM’s 25% reduction in food imports by 2025 a necessity – President Ali

-Says Agri-Investment Forum will drive collaboration and investment opportunities

His Excellency Dr Irfaan Ali stressed that CARICOM’s vision of reducing its food import bill by 25% by 2025 is no longer a dream or an objective but a necessity driven by global challenges.

At the launch of the Agri-Investment Forum and Expo today at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre at Liliendaal, the Head of State pointed to the “urgency” of producing more food within the region.

He referenced the war in Ukraine and its ramification on the global food supply.  

“The war in Ukraine and its consequences are now beginning to take a toll globally. We don’t know where the end is, but what we do know is that every single global citizen will be affected, and that is why this must come to an end as fast as possible.”

He spoke of the wheat production capacity of Ukraine and Russia, which, prior to the war, exported more than a quarter of the world’s wheat.

Since the drop in the production of wheat and other produce will affect the global cost and availability, the President was adamant that the time is right for us to return to agriculture in the region.

As the Lead Head on Agriculture, Agricultural Diversification and Food Security in CARICOM, the President noted that producing food for the region and reaching the intended goal is not just complex but multifaceted.

He listed several critical areas, including financing, technology, partnership, shared responsibilities and the inclusion of women and youths to not only bolster production but to make it globally competitive.”

“It is about transport and logistics. It is about niche markets. It is about job creation. It is about research and development. It is bringing all of these different areas together in unison that will allow us to achieve this target.”

On this note, the President lauded Republic Bank for initiating the process of setting aside an allocation of resources to support the vision of 25 by 2025 and the achievement of this target.

“Republic Bank is not on the agenda by chance…I want to also take this opportunity to thank the private sector of this region, and here [in Guyana], for their strong commitment to this vision.”

The Head of State also expressed gratitude to the CARICOM Secretary-General, Dr Carla Barnett and her team for their “tremendous support” while reiterating Guyana’s commitment.

“I want to say to you, you not only have our commitment from Guyana; as far as our resources would allow us, we are going to provide the financing that is required to help to support the implementation of this strategy because it is key for all of us.”

CARICOM’S VISION GAINING GLOBAL ATTENTION

The President announced too that CARICOM’s vision is also attracting global attention.

“Sometimes we believe things go unnoticed, but our vision in CARICOM is already touching different corners of the globe to the extent that the Minister of Finance this week was able to get the full commitment of IDB Invest to be part of the 25 by 2025 vision. Not only will they be part of the vision, but they will be part of the Expo.”

He said too that the Canadian High Commission and the EU Ambassador have also pledged their support.

Meanwhile, the President announced that four of the largest buyers and distributors from the UAE would also attend the forum in May.

“They will be coming here to be part of the Expo to look at the opportunities, but more than buying and distribution, they invest in the agricultural potential of countries. They put the capital in, and they derive the product as the output; and what are they targeting? Coffee, cocoa, spices, sugarcane, these are some of the target areas that they are looking at, and they are all confirmed.”

The President noted that to date, 20 international companies, 33 regional companies, 53 local companies and at least four global institutions have all committed to the Expo.

“The appetite is there, the time is right—we must now embrace it.”

The President added that he is confident of attracting the necessary financing to achieve the vision, but all hands must be on deck.

“It is how we package what we want, and that is what the CARICOM Secretariat and the technical team would be doing, working with every single country to package what we want…we can’t package something, and when investors come, they take ten months to facilitate the process of getting off the ground. That is superficial. That is not what we want to achieve.”

TIME-BOUND VISION

The Head of State said that the inaugural Investment Forum and Expo is critical in bringing together leaders, practitioners, farmers and others along the value chain.

“We as leaders in CARICOM have tied ourselves to a timeframe. That should tell you how serious we are about this. We didn’t leave this as an open-ended discussion. We have tied ourselves to that timeframe. We now look forward to the support of all of you in the region, in the private sector, in the field of food production and distribution to work with us.”

Dr Barnett and several regional leaders, including Prime Minister of the Republic of Barbados, the Honourable Mia Amor Mottley; Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Honourable Dr Ralph Gonsalves and the Prime Minister of Belize, and the current Chair of CARICOM, the Honourable John Briceno also made remarks (virtually) in support of the timely initiative.

The inaugural Agri-Investment Forum & Expo will be held on May 19-21, 2022, under the theme ‘Investing in Vision 25 by 2025’. 

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