State leaders essential in driving region’s food system – VP

Vice President, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo said for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to see a 25 percent reduction in its food import bill by 2025, massive investments must be made by state leaders.

The Vice President said the political strength of regional leaders is essential in cutting through the challenges currently being encountered, to achieve a massive food system.

Vice President, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo during Friday’s presentation

“We can’t leave here without that commitment, this process has to be driven right up from the top,” Dr. Jagdeo emphasised on Friday, while speaking on key binding constraints of the agriculturesector, during day two of the Agri-Investment Forum and Expo, at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC).

The region currently expends some $6 billion to import food annually. The Vice President explained that for the sum to decrease by 25 percent by 2025, it means that outputs have to increase by more than 1.5 billion in three and a half years.

“This means that we have to have a champion in each country for these measures. And it means intervention from the Presidents or the Office of the Prime Minister for each region. This cannot be driven simply by a Minister of Agriculture.

“Because there are so many cross-cutting issues that need to be addressed that cannot be addressed by the agricultural ministries alone. And they would need heavy political intervention on the part of the heads of government,” the VP underscored.

He said 10 major constraints were identified in 2005 that affected development in the region’s agriculture sector and food security.

The constraints include, among other things, limited financing and inadequate new investments, outdated and inefficient agriculture, health and food safety systems, inadequate research and development, fragmented and unorganised private sector and inefficient land and water distribution and management systems.

And while CARICOM has made some progress in addressing some of those limitations, it is far from addressing them in a structured manner, and if they are not rectified soonest, then there will not be an ideal framework for the growth of food security in the region.

The Vice President said in order to significantly advance the food system, public and private investments are integral.

“You need investments in roads, research, drainage and irrigation systems etc. If you look at the share of the budget for dedicated to agriculture in many countries, they have a very small and been dwindling. If you look at the loan profiles where we sought to borrow abroad, very few requests would actually go into the financial institutions for the agricultural sector, for all sorts of things we borrow but very little for agriculture.”

He said just like the increase share of the budget to the food security sector, there must be a commitment or package of fiscal concessions that are comparable with what other sectors in the countries enjoy. “And the only way that can happen, is only if the issues are treated as a priority.”

In some instances, he said the country leader has to go on the ground and engage farmers if they want to see major success.

This is something the government has been doing since its assumption to office, meeting with farmers and other residents on key issues and soliciting their input in decision making.