Chairperson, Your Excellency Dr Carla Barnett, Secretary-General of the CARICOM Secretariat, Heads of Organisations, Heads of Agencies, ladies and gentlemen, especially those fo us in the audience who are farmers and stakeholders in the agriculture sector, giood morning to all of you.
Permit me at the very onset to commend the Secretariat, in association with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Caribbean Research and Development Institute (CARDI) for the investment, imagination and commitment in planning the Sixteenth Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2021, virtually. I am advised that this is a first for this most important regional calendar event.
The significance of this achievement should not be lost on any of us. For me, it represents evidence of the renewed energy, enthusiasm, which is coursing throughout our Region and providing reassurance that agriculture remains of paramount importance to the Caribbean’s fortunes and future.
Someone recently mentioned that agriculture is once again on the front burner. I know this to be true.
Guyana, as you know, holds lead responsibility for agriculture, agricultural diversification and food security in the Caribbean Community. The Government of Guyana does not take this responsibility lightly. We have demonstrated the willingness and commitment, from the very outset, to lead from the front. Indeed as I have stated, Guyana intends to provide leadership in the area of food security.
Guyana has begun to provide that leadership, including through the policies it is adopting locally. Permit me to expound on this to set the stage for addressing how best we can transform our regional food systems.
At the national level, Guyana is committed to the sustainable and equitable transformation of its food systems. Our efforts to do so are rooted in our commitment to the ‘2030 Agenda’ and the obligation to leave no one behind. We are dedicated to ensuring that there is access to safe and nutritious food for everyone, the reduction of on-farm and post-harvest waste and loss and the implementation of a circular food economy.
As part of this commitment to providing safe and nutritious food for all, Guyana is taking steps to consolidate its National School Feeding Programme by strengthening connections between consumers and food producers, including by fostering more robust food value chains and creating solid alliances between farmers and the wider society, to deliver safe, healthy and nutritious school meals.
- Guyana is expanding agricultural production and productivity, including through increased investment in large-scale agricultural production and the provision of incentives to boost investment in the sector.
- Guyana is strengthening its agricultural institutions so as to provide greater support to the sector.
- We are also improving our agricultural-support infrastructure, including drainage and irrigation and farm-to-market roads.
- For a matter of fact investment in these infrastructure is of priority in the transformative agenda of the country.
- Guyana is de-risking its agricultural sector.
- Guyana is diversifying and modernising local agriculture so as to create a more resilient sector.
- Guyana will promote increased Research and Development and innovation in agriculture and pursue climate-smart agriculture.
- We will also be intensifying increased value-added through agro-processing.
- Guyana is adopting an inclusive approach to the management of its agricultural sector – one which involves widespread and regular consultation with stakeholders.
I mention these developments not to blow my country’s trumpet but to highlight the elements of a replicable model for transforming regional food systems.
In this regard, the Sixteenth Caribbean Week of Agriculture should, I believe, address two fundamental questions: First, why is the transformation of regional food systems necessary? And second, how best can we pursue this transformation process?
The Caribbean has the resources to ensure greater regional food security. It remains a travesty that our Region, blessed with arable lands, abundant freshwater supplies and skilled agricultural workers, imports more than US$ 5B annually in food. We have the means to slash our regional food import bill, produce more of the food we consume and, in the process, generate sustainable livelihoods through agriculture. The Caribbean also must become more food secure since climate change can imperil global food supply, subjecting the Region to external-induced shocks.
The world’s population is increasing. By 2040, it is estimated that there will be an additional 1.4 billion more mouths to feed. Food will be in high demand. This represents both a challenge for us to feed ourselves and also an economic opportunity to help feed the world. We must reform our food systems in order to respond to these challenges and seize the opportunities that will arise from the demand for more food.
Food security also is central to the attainment of many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). If the Region is to avoid being detoured from attaining the SDG’s, it must transform its food systems to ensure greater food security.
There should therefore be no reservations about the need for transforming our regional food systems. I now come to the issue of how to proceed with this transformation.
In February of this year, in the capacity of Lead Head on Agriculture for the Region, I presented a paper titled “Advancing the CARICOM Agri-Food Systems Agenda; Prioritizing Regional Food and Nutrition Security” to the CARICOM Heads of Government. This ‘paper’ outlined a methodical and pragmatic programme for the transformation of our regional food systems.
Arising of this process, a Special Ministerial Taskforce on Food Production and Food Security was established. This Taskforce is being ably led by Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture, the Hon. Zulfikar Mustapha.
The theme of this year’s Caribbean Week of Agriculture aligns with the thrust of the Special Ministerial Taskforce. The Taskforce’s main objective is to provide guidance on the transformation of the agri-food system to ensure resilience, the creation of opportunities for agricultural investment and guarantees of food and nutrition security.
The transformation of regional food systems must involve the regional private sector. In this regard, the CARICOM Private Sector Organisation (CPSO) has been actively involved in the work of the Special Ministerial Taskforce and has contributed significantly in the identification of specific areas for regional policy support in targeting investments and intra-regional trade, particularly in respect to poultry, niche vegetables and commodities such as corn, soy, rice, coconut, beef and the meat of ruminants.
The Caribbean has the means of securing greater self-sufficiency in food, but much more needs to be done in ensuring, in particular, that the wheels of intra-regional trade are not encumbered. We cannot seriously speak of significantly denting the enormous and unsustainable regional food import bill yet, unwittingly or otherwise, erect and keep in place non-tariff barriers (NTBs), which impede regional trade in agriculture produce and products.
Within the Caribbean Community, Guyana will aggressively press for the dismantling of barriers that restrain intra-regional agricultural trade. We are going to be bullish on this issue. I know that there are vested interests who wish to retain these barriers, but the choice facing us is clear. If there is to be greater regional food security, these barriers have to be dismantled.
The promotion of regional initiatives aimed at eliminating non-tariff barriers to trade is among the critical areas being addressed by the Special Ministerial Taskforce. To support this process, a Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Dispute Resolution Mechanism is being refined for adoption in the Community.
Transforming regional food systems must result in increasing regional food production. As Lead Head on Agriculture in the Region, I am not oblivious to the fact that access to adequate and suitable land remains a critical constraint. Guyana being resource-rich in land and freshwater, is desirous of leading in this area by making available appropriate lands as part of the process of promoting cross-border investment in agriculture. Guyana is currently embarking on a process of consolidating unused and underutilised lands with the aim of making suitable lands more readily available for supporting large-scale agriculture investments.
Transforming regional food systems also must result in more climate-resilient agriculture. Our Region isparticularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change and natural hazards, including overtopping of sea and river defences, salt-water intrusion into agricultural lands, flooding, drought and the threats posed by hurricanes and other natural disasters. As I noted earlier this year, in my address to CARICOM Regional Food Systems Dialogue:
The Caribbean Region has been named as the second most hazard-prone Region in the world, largely owing to its vulnerability and exposure to multiple extreme and frequent hazard events. It is therefore imperative that attention is given to building climate resilience in order to transform the Region’s agri-food system
Given agriculture’s extreme reliance on favourable climatic conditions, there is now an even stronger need for appropriately tailored and accessible risk transfer financial services. In this regard, the absence of adequate insurance has severely constrained investment in the sector.
I have been advised that a sub-committee is currently being established specifically to address the possibilities for establishing similar agricultural insurance on a regional scale.
We are moving forward with the agenda to transform regional food systems.
If I may therefore summarise the key areas of my presentation here today, I would like to reiterate that transformation of regional food systems is absolutely pivotal to regional food security and regional resilience. And, it can unlock opportunities for the Caribbean as a stronger regional food exporter.
A central focus of reforming Caribbean food systems should entail the rapid dismantling of barriers, which inhibit intra-regional trade in agricultural produce and products, increasing food production, increasing investments, promoting climate-resilient agriculture and de-risking the sector.
I urge that you to consider these areas in your discussions. If I may add the work of Prime Minister [Mia] Motley on the CSME and Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves are also critical for the developmet of the agriculture sector. We have to resolve the regional transportation system if we are going to build a strong competitive agriculture sector. I know the work has already started and these three sub-committess are to meet and come up with a common plan in addressing issues that are interrelated under the CSME and under the regional transportation infrastructure system.
I wish you a successful, exciting and memorable Sixteenth Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA 2021).
I thank you