Science Summit of UN General Assembly: Overhauling of regional agricultural system needed – Pres Ali
…must encourage women, youth into workforce
President Dr Irfaan Ali has said that systemic changes are necessary if Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean Region are going to be food secure.
He told a Science Summit of the United Nations General Assembly via Zoom on Monday that for far too long, there has been a passive approach to food security, which has amplified the problem at the regional level.
The Head of State, who was the keynote speaker at the food security forum, proposed an overhaul of the regional agriculture system to not only make it less laborious but to encourage women and youth into the workforce.
Enhanced technological use, he pointed out, would be imperative to develop the new system.
“How do we ensure that more women are leading farms, using science and technology as aids? We cannot build an agricultural system or a production system that does not have the future in mind. What we have now is a lot of young people not going into agriculture. The question is, why? Because we still promote agriculture in the traditional way,” the President is quoted as saying at the Summit.
To change the system, President Ali said that Governments need to make larger investments, remove the red tape hampering the flow, use individual strengths for the collective good and enhance private sector partnerships.
“If the Caribbean believes that we can do this singularly, we’re fooling ourselves. This requires partnership and a willingness of all stakeholders to work in a cohesive manner, utilising each other’s competitive advantage and pushing each other’s competitive advantage to the benefit of the Region. That is what we’re doing.”
The President also spoke of the land available in Guyana and Suriname, the technological know-how of Roraima, Brazil, and the unique advantages of several Caribbean islands. Overall, he explained that the Region should be investing at least 7.5 per cent of their national budgets in agriculture and food production in the short term for there to be a possibility of achieving a 25 per cent reduction in food importation by 2025.
He also highlighted general cooperation and country-to-country partnerships, especially between Guyana and Barbados.
The urgency in food security, the President stated, is not only a Caricom concern but a global issue. Reference was made to the hindering factors, including the pandemic, which has skyrocketed the global food import bill to its staggering US$1.8 trillion projection.
He said that as of June 2022, the number of acute food insecure persons has increased to 345 million in 82 countries and out of that amount, some 2.8 million, or nearly 40 per cent of the population in the English-speaking Caribbean, are food insecure.
He emphasised that at all levels, there needs to be short and long-term responses to boost food production and nutrition, improve food security, reduce risk and strengthen the food systems.
“The global, regional, and national food systems must become more responsive to the needs of the population. The system has to be responsive to the needs of the population to give them healthy and affordable diets, inclusive of food sustainable sustenance and enforce good livelihood for all, especially small economies.”
The President said that food security was the main issue at the UN General Assembly this year, which demonstrated its urgency.
“Did we actually realise what took place in the UN? For the first time, the macro issues for food security, climate change, and everything else fell under the umbrella of food security. Every single address at the UN, every single side event had the issue of food security.”
With the spotlight on food security, President Ali said that it is now time for Small Island Developing States and Low-Lying Coastal Countries to push funding agencies and to work with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN to become food secure.
“If we can’t do it now, then we will be in serious problems in the long term.”