CARICOM’s food security agenda moving apace – President Ali

efforts heighten to reduce regional food import bill

President, Dr Irfaan Ali’s robust leadership on agriculture in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has seen significant progress in several countries, even as efforts heighten to reduce the region’s US $5 billion food import bill by 25 per cent come 2025.

The Head of State delivered the keynote address at the opening of the Agri-Investment Forum and Expo II at the National Academy of Performing Arts in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on Friday.

Speaking about Guyana’s advancement, President Ali said there has been steady progress in every category on a national level during the first half of the year.

He pointed out that his Government aims to ensure that by the end of 2024, Guyana is completely self-sufficient in corn and soya feed input for the poultry industry.

This, he added, requires capital investment from the rest of the region.

“And we are open and ready for this partnership with the private sector,’ he stressed.

President Dr Irfaan Ali delivering the keynote address at the opening of the Agri-Investment Forum and Expo II at the National Academy of Performing Arts in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on Friday

Accordingly, he noted that Guyana has attained 61 per cent in its poultry performance, while the livestock industry fared better, with the attainment of 80 per cent of its production target.

Further, he announced that over the last year Jamaica has made progress by meeting 26 per cent of its target as of March 2022.

The country, he remarked, has witnessed solid performance in the production of onions and Irish potatoes, in particular.

Similarly, strong performance was registered in Trinidad and Tobago, particularly in the poultry industry. With a target of 83,000 metric tonnes, an amount of 66,500 metric tonnes was produced up to June 2022.

Meanwhile, production levels for fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry and pork have outstripped targets by June 2022 in St. Lucia. The target volume was set at 91.4 metric tonnes for fruits and vegetables.

According to President Ali, the reported production amounted to 1,000,309 metric tonnes by June 2022.

“This, of course, is indicative of a clear need for upward adjustments to the target as presented by both my sister Prime Minister Mottley and our private sector head. To underline this point for the identical category of produce that I just mentioned from St. Lucia, the import is 8,000,249 metric tonnes,’ President Ali stated.

With the use of technology for the first time, Barbados is advancing its production and productivity. Prime Minister, Mia Mottley is also leading a programme that would see the growth of aquaculture and actual production before the end of this year in Barbados.

“It is no longer talking about what can be done is doing what we have been talking about for a very long time. The new approach is a different mindset. It’s a different way of thinking. The heads of government have agreed that if we are not ready, or if you’re not all ready to move, then we must move with those who are ready”, President Ali explained.

Trade barriers

Meanwhile, the member states have begun to demonstrate their commitment to the removal of barriers to trade among countries in the region.

The establishment of the Guyana /Barbados food terminal in Barbados is a demonstration of one such commitment, according to President Ali.  

He explained that similar discussions are ongoing with Antigua, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of the region. The intention is to bolster production and productivity at a national level, ensuring there is easier access to markets.

The President said the time has come for the leaders to demonstrate tangible results, as they collectively push to create an environment within CARICOM to ensure food sustainability.

In addition, the Heads of State are pursuing an agenda that will focus heavily on training young people and women, allowing them to be integrated into the agri-food system for the region.

Due to the global environment in which everyone operates, several challenges must be endured.

Among them, are the rising cost of living, climate change, and inflation crisis.

Dr Ali said while there will be pressures toward achieving the 25 by 2025 target, there must be collective sacrifices among the CARICOM states in many areas.

“The fact that we as leaders decided to set the measurable target that the work, we embarked on should tell you the seriousness to which we are applying ourselves in achieving this,” he asserted.   

According to the most recent World Bank report, more persons across the region are moving towards food disruption. This means that they are not getting the level of nutrition needed on their plate.

Some 4.4 million people or nearly half of the population suffer from food insecurity, and 22 per cent of children under five years suffer from chronic malnutrition.

Another 66 per cent of the children under five years also suffer from the risk of no access to food. To this end, the president contended that the situation affects the education output and the social conditions under which people live. He stressed too that the issues must be addressed by the region.