Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne has accused some of his Caribbean Community (CARICOM) colleagues of being “free riders” when it comes to regional transportation, and issued a call for urgent implementation of a “shared burden, shared benefit” programme as the region seeks to ramp up food security.
His comments came on Thursday as several regional leaders gathered in Guyana for the opening ceremony of the Agriculture Investment Forum and Exposition which is designed to, among other things, highlight investment opportunities in the agriculture sector in Guyana and the region, and provide authorities with the opportunity to discuss challenges facing the sector and come up with solutions.
The three-day event was held under the theme Investing in Vision 25 by 2025, which is in reference to the plan to lower the region’s US$6 billion food import bill by 25 per cent within the next three years.
The lack of frequent, affordable and reliable transportation was identified as one of the major challenges that could hinder the region’s push towards achieving food and nutrition security.
Browne, whose country is the headquarters for regional airline LIAT, joined several of his regional colleagues in calling for improved regional transportation to get food around the region with greater ease, especially in light of growing concerns about ongoing supply chain disruptions.
“A regional approach is necessary to increase food production in all of our territories, but it is not sufficient to produce more food if we fail to establish a means to transport and distribute it. Let us not fool ourselves; if we do not have adequate transportation then all of our efforts will be in vain,” he warned.
“In this regard, reliable transportation by air and by sea is imperative and urgently requires attention. There is a tendency in this region in which we have some free riders. Everyone wants transportation but no one wants to pay for it. We have to implement a programme of shared benefit and shared burden. So I implore our colleagues to address this important issue of transportation urgently,” added Browne.
Meanwhile, Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley highlighted the need for more regular air transportation of goods across the region, and suggested that perhaps the time had come for a new type of transportation.
“In this moment, when maritime transport is at its greatest challenge, we have to recognise that the bridge to resuscitating Caribbean tourism air transport may well be having regional air cargo moving to help offset the investment to move our people,” she said to applause.
“We may need to look at different planes, and we may need to look at more regular traffic . . . . The regularity of movement may well be the solution for us rather than these large aircrafts that move once or twice a day. Our people need regular, affordable access to air transport and not just simply on a periodic basis,” said Mottley, as she pointed to the Belize experience with the use of Cessna Grand Caravans.
Dr. Keith Rowley, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, which is the home of Caribbean Airlines Ltd., also called for improved transportation to satisfy food and nutrition needs across CARICOM member states.
However, he suggested marine transport as he recalled that the then ten-member West Indies Federation was gifted with two ships – the Federal Maple and Federal Palm – that were used to transport people and goods.
“At no time I can recall that the people of the CARICOM region were ever better connected and better served. But at the end of useful life of those ships they were never replaced, not because there was no reason to replace them . . . but that we, the independents, had not done what had to be done to serve our people. We knew what had to be done but it has never been done,” Rowley complained.
Speaking directly to investors at the Agri Investment Forum and Expo, Rowley urged them to “help the team of governments of the region to fund, and have operating within the CARICOM region, vessels of that nature so as to bring our people together to travel by sea in an affordable way”.
“It has been done, it needs to be done. Goods and services by sea, after by rail, is always the cheapest,” he said.
Premier of Montserrat Joseph Farrell also stressed the need for investment in shipping in the region if food and nutrition security is to become a reality, adding that “the biggest concern we have is not that food is not available in some neighbouring countries, it is getting the food to where it is needed most”.
Pointing out that the region has been speaking about the need for an ease in transporting food from one country to the next for the past 25 years, Farrell said he believed investment was a missing part of the puzzle.
“We now need investment in shipping so that we can move those products from Guyana to Jamaica, from Dominica to Montserrat and Antigua. This is what we need at this point. Let us put our money where our mouth is and invest in shipping,” he said as he called for investments to be made “in at least two ships – one going north and one going south so we can move our products from one nation to the next”.