Collective action needed to address regional food security challenges – Pres Ali

President Dr Irfaan Ali addressing the Summit of the Americas on Friday

– highlights dangers to regional food security at Summit of the Americas

Noting the potential of the region to provide abundant land and water resources for ensuring food security, President Dr Irfaan Ali while addressing the recently concluded Ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, California, urged the region to work together in addressing these regional challenges.

During his address on Friday, the President gave statistics on food security, or lack thereof, in the region and around the world. Reference was made to the fact that in 2019, 47.7 million people in Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) countries lived in hunger. President Ali noted the importance of collective action in addressing all the challenges to the region, from food security to good governance.

“In 2019, 47.4 per cent of the population in LAC countries, lived in hunger. This is 47.7 million people. The situation is getting worse. Over the last five years, with an increase in 13.2 million people, by 2030, it is expected that 67 million people in the region will be affected by hunger. A figure that does not include the repercussions of COVID-19.”

“In 2019, almost a third of the population, 191 million people, were affected by moderate or severe food insecurity. All of this is occurring whilst in this region, in the upper tier of countries that are considered food secure, we have six countries listed,” President Ali said.

He also touched on the threats that climate change poses to the region. Between 2015 and 2019, for instance, crop duration actually shortened in central and South America.

According to the President, climate change, extreme events, and changes in climatic patterns, are expected to cost the region hundreds of billions of US dollars annually.

“Between 2015 and 2019, crop duration between sowing and harvest, for soy, shortened by 4.7 per cent in central America, 3.1 per cent in North West South America, 2.7 per cent in South East South America, while growth duration for maize in that same period declined by 5 per cent in Central America, 5.2 per cent in South West South America,” the President said.

“These changes will continue to disrupt established cycles and yields. The number of extreme weather events in central America, has increased 3 per cent annually in the last 20 years. The Amazon, the world’s largest reservoir of biodiversity and carbon, is described as highly vulnerable to drought.”

In fact, Ali warned that exposure to drought has increased from 8 per cent between 2004 and 2005, to 16 per cent in 2015 to 2018. This, he noted, has led to increased tree mortality and declined productivity in the forests.

Guyana has so far emerged as a leader in regional food security, chairing the Caribbean Community (Caricom) Special Ministerial Task Force on food production and food security, hosting the recently concluded Agri-Investment Forum and Expo and articulating the “25 per cent by 2025” strategy, which has its genesis in the Guyana Government’s aggressive campaign to dismantle regional barriers to agricultural trade.

President Ali has said that in the next four years, with the assistance of more diversified crops, Guyana would aim to reduce Caricom’s food import bill by 25 per cent. To this end, the President had made a comprehensive presentation to regional heads on food security strategies during Caricom’s 33rd Inter-Sessional Meeting in March.

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.

The Ministry subsequently formed a National Working Group on Barriers to Trade against Exports from Guyana. According to the assessment on market access by the Working Group, most of the challenges found were related to technical measures including sanitary and phytosanitary measures. It also found several technical and administrative regulations that were all hampering the export of Guyanese products.

The Second Plenary of Summit of the Americas was held in California, United States, under the theme: “Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future”. The summit came to an end on Friday.