President Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali address to the CARICOM Regional Food Systems Dialogue

Address by

His Excellency Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali

President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana

to the CARICOM Regional Food Systems Dialogue

Distinguished Ministers of Agriculture in the Region, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, participants:

It gives me great honour and privilege to be part of this programme this morning.  My sister Prime Minster [Mia] Mottley in a very frank and precise manner highlighted the challenges that we face as a region.

FOOD SYSTEMS AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

I would like to express my appreciation to the Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community for his kind invitation, extended to me, to deliver today’s address. As the Lead on agriculture within the Community, it was a request which I could not decline and which I was most delighted to accept.

I commend the Secretary-General and the Secretariat of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) for hosting this Regional Food Systems Dialogue. I would also like to welcome 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.

This event allows the Region to synthesise its position in preparation for the United Nations Food Systems Summit as part of ‘The Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030’.

But this ‘Dialogue’ has a more important role to play in respect to our food systems. It allows us to deliberate on strengthening regional food security. It provides an opportunity to assess how best we can respond to the threat posed by climate change to our food systems.

It also allows us to strengthen our resolve to advocate stridently for financing for regional agricultural development and climate resilience. All three of these thematic areas – food security, climate change and financing for development – are critical to ensuring that the Region’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals is not undone.

COVID-19 PANDEMIC

The immediate challenge facing our Region is the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Its effects are not limited to health and human safety, but extend to all areas of our economy, including our food systems.

The pandemic, internal conflicts, climate disruptions and economic shocks worsened global food insecurity. The 2021 Global Report on Food Crises estimated that 155 million persons in 55 countries were subject to food crises in 2020.

As of April 2021, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that 296 million people in the 35 countries, where it works, are without sufficient food—111 million more people than in April 2020.

The Caribbean COVID-19 Food Security & Livelihoods Impact Survey: Regional Summary Report of February 2021 reported that the pandemic had widespread effects on livelihoods.

The ‘Report’ identified the main factors behind the disruptions as concerns about the outbreak, the ensuring restrictions of movements, and problems with access to and the price of inputs.

It estimated a 57% increase in the number of food-insecure persons in the Region over the past year. The pandemic also resulted in the loss of jobs and incomes, increases in food prices, a fall in food consumption for poorer households, and a reduction in their food stocks. 

CARICOM AGRI-FOOD SYSTEM STRATEGY

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.  

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 has since met twice, with key priority areas being addressed to drive the transformation of the agri-food system. These areas include, but are not limited to:

  1. The complete removal of all technical barriers to trade,
  2. The implementation of an E-agriculture strategy,
  3. Investments in production, research and development,
  4. Measures to promote de-risking of the sector; and
  5. The improvement of transport and logistics.
  6. The Community has therefore been engaged in strengthening regional food systems and regional food security.

FOOD SECURITY 

Even before the outbreak of the pandemic, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) had crafted The Regional Food and Nutrition Security Policy in order, among other things, to ensure “stable and sustainable food supplies at all times.” 

The Region’s high food import bill is 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.

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. But 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 Region is not short of solutions for improving food security.  These solutions are to be found in 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.

CLIMATE RESILIENCE

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. One of these challenges is 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.

The Caribbean Region has been named as the second most hazard-prone Region within the world, largely owing to its vulnerability and exposure to multiple extreme and frequent hazard events. It is therefore imperative that attention is given to building climate resilience in order to transform the Region’s agri-food system. Progress towards achieving the SDGs requires a commitment from all member states to affirmative action in respect to climate change.

FINANCING FOR DEVELOPMENT

The Jagdeo Initiative had identified the key binding constraints to Regional agricultural development. Foremost among those constraints were limited financing and new investments in the sector. The ‘Initiative’ proposed the development of a fund to modernise regional agriculture.

 But financing for regional agriculture cannot be divorced from financing for climate reliance. 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 our efforts in doing so depend on the degree of international support received, especially in respect to financing for building an agricultural sector that is more resilient.

Financing for sustainable development is of equal importance. A few days ago, I made an Intervention at a United Nations Roundtable on the Extractive Sectors. I said then that:

“Without greater access to financing, efforts by small states to meet their commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sustainable Development Agenda will be derailed.”

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. It must 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.

FOOD SYSTEMS AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

As you are aware, food and food systems are central to a number of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The preservation, protection and improvement of food systems are therefore pivotal to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

If the Caribbean is to remain committed to the SDGs, it will require greater attention to 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 has ever 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’ therefore is timely and relevant; it prepares us for the United Nations Food Systems Summit. But it also forces us to focus on thematic concerns which are critical to the Region’s survival. I wish every success to today’s deliberations.

Just before I go, I wish to go over several points to emphasis how important it is that we address these areas before the second multi-stakeholder dialogue, and these are points I covered in the address, the high risk the Caribbean community face in food production opens up questions of crop insurance, but the viability of that itself because of the high level of risk is a question.

The creation of a vulnerability fund IICA and the World Food Program, FAO has to be our partners in championing this fund that is so critical for the Caribbean region. You have all summarised in every finding that the Caribbean is specifically vulnerable to the issues of climate change.

You have to help us to champion the establishment of a vulnerability fund, a comparative analysis on our competitive advantages, individually and collectively, so we know where our advantage and disadvantage lie, and how we can address them together.

Commitment to the removal of trade impediments—red tape, Budget support, our transport and logistics infrastructure and system, an integrated market. I know my sister Prime Minister Mottley is passionate about the CSME. But we have to work in the Region with an integrated market, and understand that our self-fulfillment of that market by increasing production level is critical. It must be supported by training, research, and technology. But importantly, we have to educate our regional population, as my sister said, on the values of eating locally, the values of eating regionally, the values of utilising our own products and we have to take strong measures.

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.

So, distinguish ladies and gentlemen, I thank you sincerely, whilst I wish you every success today. I think we must be different in this conference, we must be bold, we must be questioning, we must be aggressive in our suggestions, and our programmes and plans in addressing these issues.

Thank you very much.

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