Achieving food security in C’bean requires heavy political lifting from top – VP Jagdeo

…says each country needs champion of agri-sector

With the Caribbean Community (Caricom) currently on the path to reducing its high food import bill by 25 per cent by the year 2025, Guyana’s Vice President, Bharrat Jagdeo, has stated that this would require intervention and heavy political lifting from the top level in each Members State.

The gathering at the ACCC for Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo’s presentation on Day Two of the inaugural Agri Investment Forum and Expo

He made this remark during a plenary session at the three-day inaugural Agri Investment Forum and Expo being held in Guyana from May 19 to 21 under the theme: “Investing in Vision 25 by 2025.”
This initiative was created by President Dr Irfaan Ali, building on a plan that was previously presented by Jagdeo to Caricom back in 2005 when he was President of Guyana – dubbed the “Jagdeo initiative”.
Many of the regional leaders who are currently in Guyana have lauded the efforts of both Guyanese leaders to push the food security agenda in the Caribbean.
But according to the Vice President, there needs to be a clear commitment by the various Heads of State before they leave towards the implementation of this initiative that seeks to reduce the region’s high food import bill and achieve food security.

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo

“We can’t leave here without that commitment [and] this process has to be driven right up from the top… They would need heavy political intervention on the part of the Heads of Government. And so, we need to have them here to make that commitment that they will either form a unit or from their offices, they will drive this process,” he posited.
Jagdeo noted that in addition to that political commitment to the process, there also needs to be a champion of the agriculture sector in every Member State to ensure that the agenda is pursued.
“This means that we have to have a champion in each country for these measures. And it means intervention from the President or the Offices of the Prime Ministers of the region. This cannot be driven simply by the Ministries of Agriculture because there are so many cross-cutting issues that need to be addressed that cannot be addressed by the Agriculture Ministries alone,” he stated.
Jagdeo’s presentation was on “Addressing the key binding constraints to agriculture growth”. Zeroing in on this, he reminded the gathering at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC) on Friday of 10 major constraints to agriculture growth in the Caribbean that were identified in a regional strategy some 17 years ago.
These included: limited and inadequate financing; outdated and inefficient agriculture and health food safety systems; inadequate research; a fragmented private sector; inefficacy of land and water distribution systems; deficient and uncoordinated risk management systems; inadequate transport; weak integrated information intelligence; weak marketing linkages, and a lack of human resource.
While he noted there was progress with some of these constraints, there is still a long way to go in addressing the others as a system. The Vice President said this would require moving forward in a more practical way rather than just talking about strategies and potential policies.
He pointed out that the ambitious “25 by 2015” target would require a large scale of investment both from the private and public sectors. In fact, he touted an estimated $7 billion private sector investment coupled with public sector investments in roads, drainage and irrigation, research capability and so on – all vital to the success of the initiative.
But according to the Vice President, the region is a far way from mobilising the resources needed to achieve this.
“So it means a massive outreach and a framework and a practical one, to try to crowd in this sort of investment,” he said.
However, Jagdeo – who is also an economist – outlined that a short-term solution to achieving food security and reducing the food import bill does not necessitate further investments. Instead, he explained that with the creation of market opportunities in the region, existing producers can ramp up production.
“An essential part of getting our food import bill down and a greater supply response, may not necessitate further investment… It means simply addressing the issues that cause so much worry and have many people aggrieved – the issue of trade barriers.”
“And so as we leave here, we have to leave with a firm commitment from the delegations that are here because much this action will have to take place, not at the regional level but at the individual jurisdiction,” he stated.
Meanwhile, Jagdeo also spoke about new binding constraints that have emerged over the years. One such issue is a concession, which he noted is more political. He outlined that the agriculture sector is usually on the bottom chain of industries that enjoy concessions.
This, he contended, needs to change, and here is where the need for champions of the agriculture sector comes in, once again.
“If there is no champion for the agriculture sector, the Ministries of Finances and the others will continue to operate in the same manner as they’ve done in the past and give the concessions to only those sectors that have the greatest lobbying power. And farmers often don’t have that lobbying strength and that is why they need a champion in the Government,” he stated, while adding that there needs to be some ring fencing to protect investments in this sector.
Moreover, Jagdeo also underscored the need for political will of high offices to cut through certain monopolies in the region that causes impediments to trade in the Caribbean.
“To open up trade, we have to break that monopoly and it’s not going to happen easily… It’s not necessarily the governments but that direct control from the private sector pushing those [State] agencies… We need to tackle this as a priority and this requires heavy lifting. We can’t leave here without that commitment right from the top,” the Vice President asserted.