Invest in shipping to move food within the Caribbean – Montserrat
As Caribbean leaders and stakeholders come together at the inaugural Agri-Investment Forum and Expo in Guyana to push a common food security agenda, calls are being made for more investments to be made within the region in order to better transport produce and other food items to the member states.
The three-day Forum and Expo, which commenced on Thursday under the theme: “Investing in Vision 25 by 2025”, saw the participation of several regional leaders as well as scores of exhibitors, both local and international.
It is anticipated that Guyana would be the hub for potential investment talks during the forum. Against this backdrop, Premier of Montserrat, Joseph Farrell, during his remarks at the opening ceremony of the Agri Investment and Expo 2022, sounded a call for investments to be made to better connect nations in the region, so that trade can be easily facilitated.
He pointed out that, for the past 25 years, there have been talks of movement of food from countries within the region, but there has been no success in achieving this. “We now need investment in shipping, so that we can move those products from [for example] Guyana in the south to Jamaica in the north… This is what we need at this point in time. Let’s us put our money where our mouth is and invest in shipping,” he stated.
Against this backdrop, the Premier urged Heads of Governments and investors to consider investing in at least two ships to operate in the Caribbean – one to ply the northern route and the other in the south. This way, he noted, products within the region can be easily transported from one nation to another.
Pledging his support to Caricom’s efforts to reduce the region’s high food import bill by 25 per cent by the year 2025, Farrell pointed out that the Caribbean spends heavily through importation from extra-regional sources and businesses, when that same money could be used to produce locally.
According to the Premier, in Montserrat and the wider Caribbean, it has been thought that anything that is foreign is good, hence countries enjoy importing food from outside of the region.
“It is embarrassing that 75 per cent of the poultry products I import in my country comes from outside of the region. It is absolutely embarrassing that 85 per cent of the food we eat in Montserrat comes from outside of the region,” he noted.
Nevertheless, the Montserrat Premier outlined that his Agriculture Ministry has already identified a number of priority areas in which they can not only produce, but also export.
“After 25 years, Montserrat ventured again to producing white potatoes, and we have produced a very successful crop this year… We are a small population, but can produce efficiently for export as well. We have produced onions, we produce cabbages, but there is no need for all of us to produce everything. We must begin to specialise. If Belize is producing oranges, I don’t need to produce oranges. We need to specialise and seriously produce,” he said.
“Why should I be importing onions from North America when my colleagues in the region have land to produce it? I understand that there are some limitations on what we can do, but the biggest concern we have is not that food is not available in some of our neighbours, it is getting the food to where it is needed most,” the Premier has posited.
According to Farrell, these are serious times, and the Caribbean region must begin to feed itself and not depend on outside sources.
Meanwhile, speaking about the President Dr Irfaan Ali-crafted ‘Vision 25 by 2025’ initiative, the Premier said he was not confident that this would be fruitful, especially since there had been similar efforts within the region in the past.
However, he noted that the energy and enthusiasm being invested into this initiative by the Guyanese Leader has now convinced him that this could be achieved.
The Agri Investment Forum 2022 being hosted by Guyana is part of President Ali’s drive to push regional agriculture and food stability.
Other regional leaders in Guyana for the three-day event include Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley; Barbados’ Prime Minister, Mia Motley; and Deputy Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Chester Cooper.
Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister, Gaston Browne; Prime Minister of Belize, Johnny Briceno; and Dominica’s Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit; as well as Prime Minister of St. Lucia, Philip Pierre, attended and participated in the event.