Due to the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the Region and the world at large, the issue of agriculture and food security has not been talked about much. However, we have always maintained that food security for the Region is as important as any other matter, and must be treated as such by Governments and other development partners.
In Guyana’s case, we have been at the forefront, over the years, in pushing for an effective agriculture and food security strategy. In December 2020, at the seventh virtual Summit of the Heads of State of Caricom and the Republic of Cuba, President Dr Irfaan Ali brought the issue of regional food security once again into the spotlight. The President used the opportunity to press the Caribbean Community (Caricom) to review the inter-regional trade mechanism and its food security in an effort to strengthen the bloc and place greater focus on an Agriculture and Food Security Strategy.
We believe that regional Heads need to place more emphasis on developing their agriculture sector and making the kind of investments necessary to ensure the Region is not only food secure, but that we produce enough to tap into export markets, so as to earn foreign exchange.
It could be recalled that in 2002, former President Bharrat Jagdeo, who at the time had lead responsibility for Agriculture in the Caricom quasi-Cabinet, had sought assistance from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) to boost the Region’s efforts to ensure it is food secure. One year after, he proposed that the Region build on its past efforts to develop a common agricultural policy, and requested that the IICA and the FAO support the Caricom Secretariat in developing a framework for repositioning agriculture in the Region.
In underlining the problems that the agricultural sector faces in the Region, Jagdeo had stressed that in the changing global environment, the sector was neither providing for food security nor earning the foreign exchange needed to cover the Region’s growing food import bill.
In addition, at a Caricom Heads of Government Conference in Grand Anse, Grenada, Jagdeo had presented a paper titled “A Framework for the Repositioning of Caribbean Agriculture”. In that framework, he stressed the need for a regional policy and strategy aimed at strengthening food security and alleviating poverty; and in January 2005, the President’s proposal was formally dubbed the “Jagdeo Initiative”, with the theme, “Strengthening Agriculture for Sustainable Development”.
The declining role of agriculture in the Region, the continuing loss of preferential markets for the Region’s traditional products, and the rapidly-increasing extra-regional food import bill are among the serious and challenging issues highlighted in the Initiative. However, while there has been much banter on the topic, it is not clear what concrete actions (if any) were taken since then to strengthen the Region’s agriculture sector and to bring it to a level envisaged in the “Jagdeo Initiative”.
Regional Governments would need to show by their actions that they are willing to go beyond the rhetoric. Guyana has made tremendous efforts to ensure the country produces enough to meet the demands of its citizens.
As we are presently doing, other countries would need to organise themselves and their individual farming sectors, and encourage young persons to embrace new technologies to see farming and agriculture as a business. By doing so, the Region would not only be ensuring there is enough food to satisfy the demands of people, but the surplus of what is produced could be exported.
Several years after, many of the proposals detailed in the Jagdeo Initiative are still relevant, and perhaps even more needed now, considering the changing global dynamics relative to countries producing enough to meet the needs of their populations and to satisfy export markets.
President Ali’s call for countries to develop an effective agriculture and food security strategy is another reminder of Guyana’s commitment to the issue of food security.