President David Granger of Guyana is off to address the 38th Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM on 4-6 July, 2017, in Grenada. Before last year’s meeting in Georgetown, when he became Chairman of the organisation for a year, even though the seemingly obligatory wailing on the region’s rising bill for food imports (now over USBillion) had intensified, the one initiative that had addressed the challenge face front, was not on the agenda for discussion.
Two weeks before, however, on his “Public Interest” TV programme, he had given assurances that CARICOM’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) which had been a work in progress since the organisation’s formation in 1973 was not dead. Transmuted into the “Jagdeo Initiative” after 2003 when the then President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo had spearheaded a concrete proposal, President Granger insisted the Initiative would come under review with the aim to make greater use of Guyana’s land space, which had always been the Jagdeo goal.
The Jagdeo Initiative had identified ten constraints that had to be overcome if the Region were to be successful in feeding itself and even become an exporter of food to a hungry world. The constraints were limited financing and inadequate new investment in agriculture; outdated and insufficient agricultural health and food safety systems; inadequate research and development; fragmented and disorganised private sector; inefficient land and water-distribution management systems; deficient and uncoordinated risk management measures; inadequate transportation systems; weak and non-integrated information and intelligence systems; weak linkages and participation of producers in growth market segments; and lack of skilled and quality human resources.
Necessary interventions were identified and responsibilities were allocated to specific members of CARICOM. Guyana, for instance, was responsible for addressing the constraints in land. In June 2007, CHoG’s met at a special meeting of donors and, among other actions, decided the Jagdeo Initiative would be implemented over the next 18 months. A decade later, the Initiative is not even being mentioned by the President of Guyana, even as he closes sugar plantations and directs the hundred thousand acres be “diversified” into other agricultural crops.
This lassitude in implementation of plans by CARICOM has been its greatest failure. The reason for this was identified as far back as 1992 when a group of WI “wise men”, led by Sridath Ramphal, were invited to form a West Indian Commission and issued its report, “A Time for Action”. Its main recommendation was the governance structure of CARICOM needed to be revamped drastically away from the current unwieldy system in which policy-making authority in the hands of the Conference of Heads of Government (C-HoG ). The authors pointed out that unless some executive authority was ceded to a permanent structure within the Secretariat – a Caribbean Commission – and a PM’s Bureau that would push the decisions between C-HoG meetings – CARICOM would remain a paper entity. So said, so done.
The bottom line is that from the inception of CARICOM (and its predecessor CARIFTA) Caribbean leaders have shown themselves absolutely lacking the political will to do what is necessary for the success of CARICOM. Ironically they all concede that a vibrant integration institution is absolutely necessary not just for the region’s viability – but actual survival. But the leaders will never take the decision to cede some of their authority to CARICOM: we therefore end up with much talk and little action.
We suggest that as President Granger hands over his chairmanship, he rises to the need of the hour to ensure that CARICOM does not continue to be a high-priced “talk shop”. The region has enough rum-shops that take care of that task. He can place the Jagdeo Initiative on CARICOM’s agenda and suggest that a precursor to a Permanent Caribbean Commission be established and empowered to consummate the Jagdeo Initiative.
This should demonstrate that the individual country leader’s image would actually be burnished as at last, they deliver food security to the region.