USAID high-level team follows up on Summit of Americas promise of closer ties

Guyana and the United States continue to strengthen their efforts aimed at eliminating hunger and addressing issues surrounding food security in the Caribbean region.

Foreign Secretary, Robert Persaud and a member of the USAID greet each other before the bilateral discussion begins.

A team of government officials met with members of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), where bilateral discussions were held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Ramphal House. 

The visit follows the Summit of Americas, the leaders of CARICOM and President and Vice President of the United States agreed on three high-level action committees were established. These were for Food security, energy and finance.

Already, the work of the food security high-level joint committee co-chaired by Foreign Secretary Robert Persaud on behalf of CARICOM and US Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols, has concluded its initial report.

Agriculture Minister, Zulfikar Mustapha and Foreign Secretary, Robert Persaud during the bilateral talks

The visit by the USAID mission was a follow up to the Summit of Americas process and implementation of the joint committee report and developing a medium and long term plan.

The dialogue between the two sides saw a number of discussions of mutual interest in areas aligned with the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) 25 by 2025 food agenda.

Guyana’s Agriculture Minister, Zulfikar Mustapha, explained that there is a united decision in CARICOM as it relates to food security.

“We have already agreed on what we should tackle and how we can address it in the next three years that we have set ourself an agenda,” he stated. 

Minister Mustapha disclosed that the region’s ministerial taskforce has been advancing discussion on food security, where a number of commodities were prioritised to reduce the almost $5 billion food import bill.

He outlined transportation as another issue that must be addressed around the region and further afield.

“Transportation is a serious problem for us too, we have to look at that to develop and work energy around the Caribbean and North America, the United States to look at those aspect,” the minister emphasised.

He highlighted a number of products which were delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic, explaining that after 12 to 13 months containers which were enroute to Guyana with essential products were stuck in Miami.

To this end, the minister pointed out that efforts are being made to see how a transportation model can be established across the Caribbean, beginning with Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados.

“But that is a work still in progress,” the minister stated.

Efforts are also being made to develop the capability of technical officers across the region.

“What we have been doing over the last few months, is sharing technical expertise around the Caribbean, but still, we need to build capacity and we will need country like the United States to help us in those areas.”

Moreover, following the war in Ukraine there has been a shortfall of wheat globally.

However, locally, an indoor wheat production trial with several varieties has already been completed.

The trial has proven successful, and according to Minister Mustapha, an open field trial is expected to begin by the end of next month in Region Nine.

He emphasised that the expertise from countries like the US is needed in these interventions to ensure proper management.

Meanwhile, the minister also emphasised that the Ukraine calamity also contributed to the hike in natural gas.

This, he explained, has driven up the cost for fertiliser, which has become a major issue for farmers across the Caribbean.

In Guyana, the administration was able to aid farmers with billions of dollars in subsidies.

But while more vegetables are being produced this year when compared to last year, due to the cost of production, prices are still high.

“So, these are the things affecting us and those are the areas I think we should concentrate,” he stated.

Foreign Secretary, Robert Persaud said the meeting will advance the ongoing works between the two partners, stressing the need to explore the inter-relation in terms of food security, energy and finance.

The foreign secretary reiterated Guyana’s commitment to working with the US on deepening the partnership towards addressing food security and related issues in the region.

In brief remarks, US Ambassador to Guyana, H.E Sarah Lynch commended the Guyana government for being “prolific” in leading the agriculture agenda in the Caribbean region.

The mission has reiterated its commitment to work closely with regional and international partners to develop compressive programme which responds to food security challenges faced by the region.

The USAID team also comprised Assistant Deputy Director of USAID, Tina Balin; USAID/ESC Regional Representative, Clinton White; Senior development Advisor, Phillip Schwehm; Private Enterprise Officer, Brenna McKay; Economic Growth Specialists (Mission Lead on Food Security), Durwin Humphrey.