Caribbean needs to source more from within region for food security – President Ali

…says removal of unnecessary non-tariff barriers required

President Dr Irfaan Ali on Friday underscored the importance of Members of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) not only producing more foods but also sourcing foods from within the region in order to reduce the high import bill.
He made this remark during an address to the virtual Caricom Regional Dialogue on Food Systems, during which he called on Caricom leaders to strive to become more food secure. According to President Ali, regional food security can be enhanced through the dismantling of barriers to the trade and agriculture commodities.

President Irfaan Ali

“The Caribbean must aim at becoming more food secure. This exercise must be sustained and must involve increased production of foods consumed within the region. But it must also entail increased intra-regional trade in agricultural commodities… If the region is to become more food secure, it has to begin to source more of its food needs from within the Caribbean, and this will require the removal of unnecessary non-tariff barriers to intra-regional trade,” the Guyanese leader noted.
The Head of State pointed out to regional leaders and other stakeholders during Friday’s virtual session; the Caribbean’s high food importation bill of over US$4 billion per annum and that its high dependence on food imports leaves the region vulnerable to external shocks caused by sudden spikes in food commodity prices as is being experience currently from the COVID-19 pandemic.
On this note, the President pointed to the Caribbean COVID-19 Food Security & Livelihoods Impact Survey: Regional Summary Report of February 2021 which stated the ongoing pandemic had widespread effects on livelihoods in the region. It estimated a 57 per cent increase in the number of food-insecure persons in the region over the past year and also highlighted the loss of jobs and incomes, increases in food prices, a fall in food consumption for poorer households, and a reduction in their food stocks.
Nevertheless, he noted that the Caricom leadership has been proactive in responding to the effects of the pandemic including on the food systems, and has even established a Special Ministerial Task Force on food production and food security to follow-up and monitor the implementation of the Advancing the Caricom Agri-Food Systems Agenda; Prioritising Regional Food and Nutrition Security strategy.

Not short of solutions
But President Ali, who is the lead Head of Government in the Caricom Quasi Cabinet with responsibility for Agriculture, contended that the region is not short of solutions for improving its food security especially in the long run. These, he said, can be found in several proposals, reports, studies and regional strategies that were prepared over the years.
“The solution exists. What is required is the political will and the financing to give effect to what needs to be done to develop the region’s food systems. I believe that the time has come, and the time is ripe for us to do so,” he asserted.
To this end, the Guyanese Head of State went on to point to the Jagdeo Initiative which had identified that limited financing and new investments were the key binding constraints to regional agricultural development and as such, proposed the development of a fund to modernise regional agriculture.
As such, President Ali noted that Friday’s Dialogue was important in allowing regional leaders and stakeholders to further deliberate on strengthening its food security as well as to assess responses to the threat posed to its food systems by climate change.
“The Caribbean region faces many challenges in developing a competitive agri-food system that can contribute to the achievement of its food security and economic goals. One of these challenges is the region’s vulnerability to the adverse effects of climate change – rising sea levels, extreme weather events and other natural disasters,” he stated.

The President also mentioned that Guyana along with its neighbour Suriname, also a Caricom Member State, are currently battling floods from torrential rainfall in parts of the country, where many agricultural lands are under water resulting in losses of crops and livestock.
“The Caribbean region has been named as the second most hazard-prone region within the world, largely owing to its vulnerability and exposure to multiple extreme and frequent hazard events. It is therefore imperative that attention is given to building climate resilience in order to transform the region’s agri-food system. Progress towards achieving the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) requires a commitment, from all Member States to affirmative action in respect to climate change,” he posited.

President Ali also outlined that financing for regional agriculture cannot be divorced from financing for climate reliance.
“Environmental threats impact on the region’s food systems. Financing for mitigation and adaptation to climate change is more critical today than ever before, and is necessary to protect the region’s food systems. The success of our efforts in doing so depend on the degree of international support received, especially in respect to financing for building an agricultural sector that is more resilient,” the Guyanese leader noted.

Transforming regional food system
In addition to President Ali, Guyana’s Agriculture Minister, Zulfikar Mustapha, also made a presentation during Friday’s Regional Dialogue.
He told the participants from across the Caribbean that the agriculture sector has a key role to play in transforming the regional food system.
“Our Heads of Government have recognised the value of taking a more holistic view of our food system when our [Caricom Special Ministerial] Taskforce was established earlier this year. The region’s food system transformation is at the core of our development aspirations. However, there is a far way more to go to adopting a ‘food systems approach’ rather than an individual sector approach,” the Minister noted.
According to Mustapha, the Taskforce will strive to ensure that all activities over the coming years are geared towards the goal of transforming the region’s agri-food system to be more sustainable, thereby contributing to the achievement of its food security and economic goals.
“We envision a modernised e-agriculture sector with enhanced incomes, enhanced productivity, value-addition, increased market access, and the production of safe and nutritious agricultural commodities that Caricom will produce for itself and the global market. All of us involved in the Summit are contributing because we care deeply about the outcomes that we think transformed food systems can deliver,” Minister Mustapha stated.
Friday’s Virtual Regional Dialogue on Food Systems is a precursor to the United Nations 2021 Food Systems Summit slated for September as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
It was hosted by the Caricom Secretariat, in partnership with the United Nations Resident Coordinators, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).