Transformation of regional food systems pivotal to food security, resilience – President

His Excellency, Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali believes that in order for regional food security and resilience to be achieved, Governments must think about transforming their food systems.

The Head of State, who is also lead Head of Government with responsibility for Agriculture in the CARICOM Quasi Cabinet, made this disclosure in his keynote address to Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2021 on Monday. This event is being celebrated under the theme, ‘Transforming Our Food Systems’.

President Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali

“Agriculture is once again on the front burner. I know this to be true because Guyana, as you know, holds lead responsibility for agriculture… Guyana does not take this responsibility lightly. We have demonstrated our willingness and commitment from the very onset to lead from the front,” the Head of State said. 

The President indicated that the Caribbean has the resources to ensure greater food security, but that it has not been taking advantage of the economic opportunities.

Against this background, Dr. Ali said, “It remains a travesty that our region, blessed with arable lands, abundant freshwater supplies and skilled agricultural workers, imports more than US$5 billion annually. We have the means to slash original food import bill, produce more of the food we consume, and the process generates sustainable livelihoods through agriculture.”

In acknowledging that the shocks of climate change can imperil food supply, the President highlighted the need for the Caribbean to become more food secure.

He reminded that the world’s population is increasing and that by 2040, there will be an additional 1.4 billion mouths to feed, inevitably translating to higher demand for food.

President Ali stated that anticipated circumstances can pose  challenges for the Caribbean to feed its people, but emphasised that the moment also presents an economic opportunity to help feed the world.

“We must reform our food systems in order to respond to these challenges and seize the opportunities that will arise from the demand for more food. Food security, also, is central to the attainment of many of the Sustainable Development Goals. If the region is to avoid being deterred from achieving the SDGs, it must transform its food systems to ensure greater food security.”

He added that there should be no reservations about the need for transforming the region’s food systems.

In highlighting how the Caribbean can proceed with this transformation, President Ali pointed to a paper he presented to CARICOM Heads of Government titled, ‘Advancing the CARICOM agriculture food systems agenda, prioritising regional food and nutrition security.’

The Head of State recalled that this paper outlined a methodological and pragmatic programme for the transformation of a regional food system. Arising out of this was the establishment of the Special Ministerial Taskforce on food production and food security. This task force has been ably led by Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha, MP.

Dr. Ali went on to state that the theme of this year’s Caribbean Week of Agriculture aligns with the thrust of the Special Ministerial Task Force, whose main objective is to provide guidance on the transformation of the agricultural food system to ensure resilience, the creation of opportunities for agricultural investment and guaranteeing of food and nutrition security.

“The transformation of regional food systems must involve the regional private sector. In this regard, the CARICOM private sector organisation has been actively involved in the work of the Special Ministerial Task Force, and has contributed significantly in the identification of specific areas for regional policy support and in targeting investment and interest, trade, particularly in respect to poultry niche vegetables and commodities such as corn, soy, rice, coconut, beef, and the meat of ruminants.”

President Ali reiterated that the Caribbean has a means of securing greater self-sufficiency, but emphasised that much more needs to be done in ensuring, in particular that the wheels of inter-regional trade are not encumbered.

Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) is a virtual event that will feature more than 30 activities and more than 100 speakers. A virtual marketplace also forms part of the event and is being hosted by main partners: the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI).

The Opening will also feature remarks by CARICOM Assistant Secretary-General, Trade and Economic Integration, Joseph Cox; Chairman, Board of Directors, Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), Ignatius Jean; Deputy Director-General, Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Lloyd Day; Assistant Director-General, LAC, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), Dr. Julio Antonio Berdegué; and President, Agriculture Alliance of the Caribbean (AACARI), Errington Thompson.