Pres. Ali requests US$25M to support women, youths during meeting with VP Harris

President Dr Irfaan Ali with US Vice President Kamala Harris in September 2022

President Dr Irfaan Ali on Thursday lobbied the United States Government for some US$25 million in assistance to further push the food security and agriculture agenda in the Caribbean, especially among specific groups such as women and youths.

He made this representation in Washington, DC on Thursday during a meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris, who had a follow-up meeting with a group of Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders on several top priority issues.

President Ali, along with Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, Surinamese President Chandrikapersad Santohki, Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, and Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader attended the engagement, which was a follow-up to President Joseph Biden and VP Harris’s commitments made at the Summit of the Americas in June of 2022 to partner with Caribbean nations to promote energy security, access to finance, and food security in the Region.

Three sub-committees were established and Guyana is co-chairing the US-Caricom-Dominican Republic Sub-Committee on Food Security and Agriculture. Represented by Foreign Secretary Robert Persaud, the sub-committee has already had 10 meetings in the last six weeks.

Thursday’s engagement between the US Vice President and the Caricom and Latin American leaders was aimed at checking on the progress of the various sub-committees.
According to President Ali in remarks after the meeting, there has been tremendous progress in the food security sub-committee.

He pointed to an announcement by the US that US$28 million would be “available immediately” for short-term activities aimed at supporting an increase in food production and further improving agriculture in the Region.

This assistance is one of the pledges made by the US under the new “Zero Hunger Caribbean Plan” to address the Region’s urgent food security needs. Other interventions include the mobilisation of experts to explore biofertiliser production as well as developing operational logistics and supply chain models to streamline intraregional trade, among others.

The Guyanese Leader, who is the Caricom quasi-Cabinet’s lead on agriculture and food security, further noted that climate resilience and sustainable agriculture, women and youth involvement in agriculture, financing, and crop insurance were some important aspects of the Agriculture and Food Security Plan that were discussed.

Against this backdrop, the Head of State revealed that he requested additional monies from the US to further strengthen the Caribbean’s food security efforts.

“I put forward a proposal to have a further US$25 million made available through grants and low-cost loans for women and youth in agriculture, especially for projects dealing with sustainability, technology, and research like hydroponics. These are projects that will ensure resilience in the food production system, and encourage young people and women to participate,” he asserted.

Moreover, President Ali said Thursday’s meeting also saw an agreement to tackle intraregional trade barriers and those that exist within the US.

“Transport and logistics are other important issues that were discussed… We have agreed that we’re going to have a common agenda in which we will support a common certification programme – sanitary and phytosanitary programme – that will ensure that all of us are operating on the same playing field and that the trade barriers are removed,” the Guyanese Leader noted.

In addition to this, the leaders also discussed at length research and development extension services and investment opportunities in agriculture and food production systems within Caricom itself.

With regard to energy security, talks surrounded an integrated energy plan in which the Caricom Leaders proposed a joint approach to ensure regional sustainability in the energy mix and energy framework that include natural gas, fossil fuel, and renewables.

“As you’re aware, Barbados, Suriname, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago are key players in the energy sector. I propose at the meeting that the US engage these countries to build a sustainable development strategy for energy security, not only for the Region but also for the US and further afield,” he explained.

The US Government has already pledged to send a multi-agency delegation to the Caribbean in October to develop technical assistance packages and prepare viable energy projects that are attractive to investors. Added to this, the US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) will host an energy procurement orientation visit for Caribbean officials, and the US Departments of Commerce and State are also set to host a Caribbean regional trade mission as well as business conferences and roundtables next month.

Meanwhile, on the access to finance end, the issue of dealing with the debt crisis, post-COVID recovery, and financing for mitigation were among the issues that the regional leaders and the US Vice President had substantial discussions on.

The Biden-Harris Administration has committed to continuing work to expand access to US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) financing for Private Sector-led projects in the Caribbean.

In addition to working with several financial institutions such as the World Bank Group (WBG) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) as well as the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the US Government said it would also elevate engagement with Caribbean nations to improve access to correspondent banking, including by convening a correspondent banking working group in Fall 2022 (September to December), re-establishing the US-Caribbean Public-Private Bank Dialogue in late 2022/early 2023, and helping Caribbean nations establish a single bank to consolidate cross-border flows across the Region.

According to President Ali, while there is much more work to be done by all three sub-committees, Thursday’s meeting was fruitful and highly successful. He added that there would be a lot more follow-up engagements as a result of this meeting.

President Ali is being accompanied by Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Hugh Todd and Foreign Secretary Persaud during his visit to the United States.

On Saturday, the Guyanese Head of State is slated to travel to Orlando, Florida for a Diaspora engagement, and from September 18 to September 21, he is scheduled to participate in several bilateral engagements and address several high-level events, including the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on September 21.