GEORGETOWN, Guyana, (DPI) – His Excellency Dr Irfaan Ali stressed the importance of across-the-board commitments by CARICOM Member States in achieving the target of reducing food importation by 25 percent by the year 2025.
Guyana currently holds lead responsibility for agriculture, agricultural diversification and food security in CARICOM and is spearheading the regional body’s quest of reducing its US$5 billion food import bill.
During his address at the 101st Special Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), via videoconference, the President reminded the leaders about the need to work as a cohesive unit.
“It is either we are serious about this or we are not serious about this – we have to decide. This is not an individual country trying to achieve something; this is us as a collective. This is about us being successful together … we cannot advance this if the commitment and the full participation is not there.”
In his capacity as the meeting’s chair, president Ali also invited discussions on the updates provided by the Special Ministerial Taskforce (MTF) on Food Production and Food Security.
The representatives were invited to identify areas where they can increase food production and come up with an actionable plan that also includes a budget, technical resources and investment. They were also tasked with identifying the gaps in each category.
President Ali noted that the intention is to be able to lead an effort to mobilise technical help and financial resources and to work with the Member States in achieving the target. He said he requested the meeting to ensure that concrete decisions and a clear path are established in moving forward.
Both Guyana’s minister of agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha and minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, Hugh Todd, were with the president.
Minister Mustapha, who serves as the chairman of the MTF, provided a progress report to participants on the work of the task force to date while participating agriculture ministers and other senior officials from across the CARICOM region provided updates on their country’s efforts to address agriculture-related issues.
The removal of non-tariff barriers as a means of promoting intra-regional trade and quick resolution of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) disputes were also raised by Dr Richard Blair, an agricultural economist with CARICOM.
He noted that the two main challenges the region faces are SPS measures and qualitative restrictions such as arbitrary licences requirements. The Members States also discussed their national action plans, including resource allocations in support of the 25 by 2025 target.
Before the next CARICOM heads of government meeting, participants are expected to set conditions, including actions required and interventions needed to achieve the target.
Also on the agenda was a discussion on the poultry industry, which President Ali said brings tremendous opportunities. “The suggestion is for us to have poultry as a mainstay of what we want to achieve. So, for example, if a country is producing zero percent, how can we take them to 25 percent; if you are producing 25 percent, how can we take you to 50 percent. We need to examine if we can do it and how we can do it.”
Other discussions included taxes and duties, incentivising agriculture, climate-smart resilient agriculture, productivity, technical support, crop identification for import substitution, addressing consumption, our consumption pattern and behaviour, data collection, monitoring system, regional transport infrastructure, agro-processing and creating a regional brand.
Positive path ahead
Meanwhile, CARICOM secretary-general, Dr Carla Barnett lauded the participants for their positive discussions.
“The way the conversation is going is really positive…we should be moving towards collecting all of the information in the individual states so that targeted programmes can be put together.”
She added that sustainable results require that specific needs of each Member State be addressed. This, she stressed, is however dependent on the inputs of the Members States.
President Ali assured that there will be direct linkages with the Secretariat and each Member State to craft a targeted outcome and strategic framework.
Foreign secretary, Robert Persaud; permanent secretary of the ministry of foreign affairs and international cooperation, ambassador Elisabeth Harper; director of projects at the office of the president, Marcia Nadir-Sharma, and other officials were also at the office of the president for the meeting.