The Caribbean Community (Caricom), cognisant of the urgency in reducing its food import bill, is taking action to implement the “25 by 2025” food security strategy that President Dr Irfaan Ali-led Government presented to regional leaders earlier this year.
This is according to Caricom Chairman and Suriname President Chandrikapersad Santokhi, during a press conference on Tuesday to mark the conclusion of the 43rd Caricom Heads of Government meeting in Paramaribo, Suriname.
“Guyana is the lead head on the agri-business. So, there’s a comprehensive strategy, we sent it to the heads, which was approved already. And there are a lot of actions planned now for the implementation of this strategy,” he said.
Santokhi further explained that a crucial area in which action is planned is in improving logistics and connectivity between countries. According to him, a timeline will be developed to ensure all these decisions are implemented.
“And yes, if you want to have this movement of agricultural products and business, you need to remove other barriers in the area of logistics and connectivity. And that was one of the issues. The transportation issue was on the agenda.
“And we approved, also, a timeline that we’ll decide for a comprehensive study on one hand, how we can strengthen the connectivity among all the islands, but also to take quick steps to allow us to move forward, bringing our products to destinations,” President Santokhi added.
Meanwhile, one of the decisions taken by the Caricom Heads of Government on the removal of non-tariff barriers on agricultural produce included to have experts and other key stakeholders meet by the end of the month, in order to advance the processes.
Back in March at the 33rd Inter-Sessional Meeting of Caricom, President Dr Irfaan Ali’s presentation on sustainable food security and agriculture was described by then Caricom Chairman and Belize Prime Minister John Briceño as one of the highlights of the proceedings.
“One of the highlights of the meeting was the important and stimulating presentations by President Ali of Guyana, who laid out a comprehensive plan for the development of the agri-food sector that was embraced by all. I congratulate President Ali and his team for their excellent work,” the Prime Minister had said.
According to Briceño, the study done by President Ali and his team served to show the challenges faced by different countries in the Region when it comes to food security, as well as the products each one could grow and supply, and a path towards sustainable food security. Among the findings was that countries outside of Caricom were the source of 98.8 per cent of poultry imports in the Region in 2020 – a needless diversion of regional finance.
“For instance, we import poultry. There’s no need for us to be importing poultry, or some of the greens, like corn. The different meats. All of that can be grown here in the Caribbean… one of the ideas that [Barbados] Prime Minister [Mia] Mottley brought up, which is about the industrialisation working group policy,” Briceño had also said.
“(This) is because there are a lot of products that we can grow, but we’re not adding value to them. As opposed to selling the raw programme,” he had said, adding that Guyana’s study foresaw a $6 billion food market in Caricom that, if captured, could create opportunities for member states.
The “Vision 25 by 2025” initiative builds on a plan that was previously presented by Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo to Caricom back in 2005 when he was President of Guyana – dubbed the “Jagdeo initiative”. Many of the regional leaders involved in the discussions have lauded the efforts of both Guyanese leaders to push the food security agenda in the Caribbean.
“Vision 25 by 2025” envisions that in the next four years, with the assistance of more diversified crops, Caricom’s food import bill would be reduced by 25 per cent as the Region ups its own production of food.
Months after assuming office, President Ali had charged the Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ministry to assess and address the hurdles related to exporting food and agricultural products to markets within the Region. As such, concerns about barriers to trade in some Caricom markets were raised with the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) earlier this year.