Local firms to be engaged on opportunities as regional leaders look to integrate agriculture

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With the aim of ensuring food security, leaders of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) are looking to integrate and commercialise the region’s agriculture sector with an enabling environment that would see the Private Sector taking advantage of the business opportunities that would come on stream.

In this regard, extensive discussions were held and key decisions were made during the two-day 32nd Intersessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of Caricom, which wrapped up on Thursday.

At a closing press conference held virtually, Guyana’s President, Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali, disclosed that the discussions were aimed at looking at the entire value chain in terms of creating wealth and creating business opportunities whilst at the same time improving the region’s capacity and its output, and making the agriculture business sustainable for the region – all geared towards greater food security in the region.

According to President Ali, all these discussions were built on studies and data that were already there. This data has been adopted during the intersessional meeting, and the Heads are now moving forward towards an ‘action-oriented’ agenda with specific targets to achieve.

“What we sought to do was to examine a strategy that fits into the global context that looks at policy formation at the national level, at the regional level; build on the political will of our leaders and the region to get this going; ensure that it is mainstream in our national planning system; and to work in identifying the systemic support that is need to boost agriculture as a business opportunity, and looking at commercialisation of agriculture as a whole,” the Guyanese leader noted.

Among the issues examined by the regional leaders, Dr Ali outlined, are the competitive edge and advances of Member States against those of their global competitors where the differentials are, and the region can actually build a model that will help to mitigate those differences and lead towards competitiveness.

“We spoke about the transportation network and how we can better improve transportation within the region; mobilisation of the national resources and our comparatives as different states, and how it can help us in our collective advantage. We discussed ways in which we can create easier environments for agro-businesses, involvement of young people, access to capital; and look at legislation, nationally and then regionally, in dealing with dumping measures,” President Ali noted.

Moreover, the Guyanese leader pointed out that Heads of Government recognise that in order to achieve this goal, they need to ensure that they craft their respective national budgets to outline these strategic targets and to also support agriculture development and agri-businesses.

On this note, the regional leaders also examined some of the barriers that affect inter-regional trade and movement of agricultural products. They have since agreed to set up a Ministerial Taskforce to identify these hurdles and establish an action plan to not only remove these barriers, but also identify specific areas and products that can be strategically developed across the region.

He went on to add that this Taskforce will be working along with the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) Sub-Committee and the region’s Private Sector to develop that “actionable plan” with accompanying targets to move this initiative forward.
According to President Ali, when examining the opportunities in forward and backward linkages in agriculture, there will be a plethora of business opportunities that will come on stream, and it is the Private Sector that would have to step up and take the lead in terms of capitalising on the opportunities.

In fact, the Caricom Chairman, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Dr Keith Rowley, has indicated that regional conglomerate Neal and Massy Group has already pledged investment resources, once the strategy is in place.

“Once the action plan identifies the specific areas that we are going to focus on with respect to becoming competitive or adding our own local inputs into production, that the Private Sector is confident that they could raise the funding that is required to facilitate the movement from report and expectation to ‘hands in the soil’ in producing these matters on the scale at which we are aiming to do to be able to produce large volumes of our requirements in either a competitive or semi-competitive arrangement.”

In addition to establishing a “shared market and shared prosperity”, the regional leaders are looking at ways in which agriculture can be merged with other sectorial developments in the region, such as energy.

Adding to this, Caricom Secretary-General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, underscored the important role the Private Sector and citizens of the Caribbean play within the context of the CSME. He said the taskforce will look at “…the linkages between agriculture and tourism, the linkages between tourism and manufacturing, so that it is a wholistic approach to the economic development; not isolated sectors, but how they integrated with each other.”