Caribbean Food Security and the Private Sector | Company

Gervase Warner, the chief executive of Massy Holdings, was blunt. Speaking in Trinidad at the second Regional Agri-Investment Forum as chair of the private sector organization Caricom, he said: “Food security has clearly become a priority, an issue critical to our own survival. . It is very clear to us that we are not going to get help from our colonizers of the past, we are not going to get help from the big developing countries… . This is our problem to solve.

He told participants that if the private sector invested in agricultural production in Belize, Guyana, Trinidad and elsewhere, it would be possible to produce 25% of the region’s food and agricultural needs by 2025, reducing the cost current $4 billion food imports of at least US$1.2 billion.

His remarks come as conflict in Europe, sanctions, global decoupling, climate change and drought drive up energy, fertilizer and transport prices, making the long-term economic outlook for security tough food for every nation that is a net importer.

The forum said some progress towards meeting Caricom’s 2025 food production target is underway in Jamaica, Saint Lucia and Guyana, and several other countries are seeking funding for agricultural expansion through the through a special facility from the Bank of the Republic.

Most importantly, details were provided of potentially game-changing infrastructure and other initiatives being developed by a “coalition of the willing” in the form of Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Barbados, which if delivered , will be developmental.

What the four nations envision beyond the large-scale provision of agricultural land for food production by Guyana and Suriname is the development of an intra-regional maritime service; the construction of a regional food center in Barbados, possibly linked to others in Antigua, Jamaica, Saint Lucia and Trinidad; the development of value-added agricultural processing facilities in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and elsewhere; and a proposal to use natural gas from Suriname, and possibly Venezuela if brought ashore in Trinidad, to produce fertilizer for regional sale and export.

In another step, talks have started with the governor of the agriculture-dominated northern province of Roraima in Brazil on creating a regional outlet through Guyana for agricultural products, while Suriname must develop ideas on how national and regional industrial policies in Caricom could be created that horizontally integrate regional food production with manufacturing.

The Trinidad forum also indicated that if this strategic vision of the South were to succeed, major Caribbean companies would need to be convinced that these plans are commercially viable and executable.

However, what is striking is the reluctance of the regional private sector to consider intra-regional and cross-border investments. This is despite the fact that some of the biggest players in Caricom have already invested in agribusinesses in Latin America.

Several Heads of Government, speaking at the conference, made it clear that if businesses in the region were unable to take advantage of the agricultural and related investment opportunities that currently exist in Guyana, Suriname, Belize and elsewhere, they would look to foreign investors: in effect, reversing the post-independence experience that saw foreign companies withdraw from ownership and long-term leasing of Caribbean farmland.

At the forum, Prime Minister of Trinidad Keith Rowley, President of Guyana Irfaan Ali and President of Suriname Chandrikapersad Santokhi all spoke about what Prime Minister Rowley described as “resistance” by companies to the initiatives being developed. “.

Prime Minister Rowley has called on the region’s private sector to “change the formulas of trade” by using whatever time it takes to get crops into the ground to become distributors of local produce, rather than brokers for those who are outside the region. He also sought to reassure small-scale farmers in the region that the campaign to invest in large-scale agriculture for regional supply was not intended to displace or replace them, but to put in place systems that would also help them.

But that’s far from the whole story.

Economist Marla Dukharan is of the opinion that the main reason for the reluctance of the regional and external private sector, whether it is investment in agriculture or many other things, is related to the little progress made in solving what she describes as the “sickness of doing business” in the region.

She suggests that recent trends of acquisition, expansion and consolidation involving the region’s non-tourism private sector indicate that investors continue to demand “significant counterweight”, in the form of government concessions to offset the costs and the risks of doing business, and to make an investment opportunity attractive enough.

She also believes that climate risks in the Eastern Caribbean, small market size, access to credit and difficulty in penetrating any industry already dominated by a few large private players act as additional deterrents, as do formal restrictions currency exchange in Barbados and the United States. Bahamian, and de facto controls and risks in Trinidad that discourage investors.

Only in the case of Guyana, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic does she see “more opportunities and possibilities than costs and risks”.

In addition to illustrating the urgency of addressing entrenched mismatches between public policy and private sector concerns, the reluctance of the regional private sector to invest in the Caribbean indicates the importance of accelerating broader treaty and regional reforms. necessary to stimulate the free movement of capital and labour. .

In other words, if change does not occur, the newly found political will, vision and desire to seek competitive advantage based on the economic complementarity currently exhibited by Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Barbados will be frustrated.

The restructuring involved in the region’s acceptance of responsibility for its own food security is, in its own way, as great a challenge as the one it faced when the preferential commodity agreements with Europe ended.

Then, instead of tying EU support for the long-awaited consolidation of basic agriculture to a gradual transition to food production, Caribbean governments accepted, by default, the compensatory increase in tourism and of migrating away from land, embracing instead cheap food made possible by globalization. imports.

If, for whatever reason, larger regional private sector entities are unable to identify commercial viability or successfully invest in Caribbean food security, others in China, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf with the means will do it, assuming the responsibility of feeding the Caribbean.

Again, holistic solutions and a long-term vision of a changing world are needed; as well as transparency and better explanations of how governments intend to facilitate intra-regional investment.

David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council.

Email: [email protected]

To access previous columns, visit: www.caribbean-council.org/research-analysis.

Michael M. Tomlin