Regional efforts continue to cut Caribbean food import bill by $1 billion

The Regional Agricultural Investment Forum and Exhibition It began here Friday with calls for the Caribbean private sector to reconsider its current role in helping the region dramatically reduce its multi-billion dollar food import bill.

“I join my colleagues who have spoken before and appeal to the private sector not to resist these developments and these initiatives, but to get on board and be the distributor of local products rather than the broker of products imported. said host Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley during the more than two-hour opening ceremony.

“It won’t happen overnight because food takes time to grow, animals take time to grow, use that time to change the formulas of the trade, to change the distribution pattern. If we’re going to feed ourselves by doing local production and you’re a distributor, get on board with local production,” Rowley said, pointing out that’s why the event is called an investment forum.

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“Invest your time, your finances, your expertise now in your business and in your countries, in your region and be part of the solution and not the problem,” Rowley said, acknowledging that there were many homes of commerce in the region who “make a good profit from being a commission agent for someone who farms outside our region.

“There’s nothing wrong with that, no shame in that, but now is the time to step foot in your backyard…and help build capacity in the region,” he said , telling small farmers that the initiative to develop the region’s agricultural sector is not designed to take them out of the market.

“We are not talking here about moving you or replacing you. We are talking about giving you more capacity, but there must be systems so that your contribution can be fruitful for you and your families”.

Earlier, the President of the Private Sector Organization (CPSO) of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Gervase Warner, said that in recent years the region’s food import bill has exceeded four billion dollars. US dollars” and that’s before the inflation crisis that we have right now.

“Against this background, there is the emergence of worrying protectionist policies that I know in our negotiations that we have tried to work against,” Warner said, adding that there were “big food-producing countries that were applying now food export bans…

He acknowledged that the region “imports a lot, in fact we import over four billion US dollars worth of food and agricultural products from outside the region and that does not even take into consideration all the economic activities associated with their production.

He said the region could do without importing grains and staples that could be grown in Belize, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, meat and poultry, vegetables, fruits and nuts, available in all Caribbean countries.

The three-day Agri-Invest and Expo 11 follows the successful initiative held in Guyana in May and brings together several CARICOM leaders, regional private sector actors, including financial institutions .

Guyana’s President, Dr Irfaan Ali, who has primary responsibility for agriculture in the quasi-cabinet of CARICOM, updating the conference, noted that the region has in recent months “made significant progress” in its quest to reduce the regional food import bill by 25% by 2025.

“In Jamaica, for example…we have seen solid progress towards the target…in March 2022, they achieved 26% of their target with strong performance in onions, Irish potatoes in particular,” Ali said.

He said that in the case of Trinidad and Tobago, strong performance was recorded especially in poultry. “For a target of 83,000 metric tons, and a quantity of 66,500 metric tons has been produced until June 2022”.

He said that in Guyana, during the first half of the year, “there has been steady progress across all categories. Our goal is to be fully self-sufficient by the end of 2024 in… corn and soybeans.

“And that requires capital investment from the rest of the region and we are open and ready for that partnership with the private sector.”
He said that in the case of politics, Guyana achieved a performance score of 61%, while for livestock as a whole, it reached 80%.

Ali said production levels in Saint Lucia of fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry and pork exceeded targets by June 2022. For example, the target volume was set at 91.4 metric tons for fruits and vegetables, but in June 2022 the reported production was 1.39 million. metric tons.”

But he said that Saint Lucia had during the same period imported 8.2 million metric tons.

“So, although we have seen significant growth, there is still a huge gap between imports and production,” Ali said, adding that member states had started to demonstrate their commitment to removing barriers to trade within the EU. CARICOM.

“He said the establishment of a food terminal in Barbados with Guyana is a demonstration of such commitment and that similar discussions are underway with Antigua, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago and other Member States.

“Thus, by strengthening production and productivity at the national level, we are also ensuring easy access to markets,” he said.

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley said the Caribbean will now determine how the region deals with the various crises that affect food security and production.

“Our expectations have to change and our ability to be able to do things differently has to come into play as well. We have to start eating what we grow and growing what we eat, and we have to do that not just because of economic demands , but also because of sanitary requirements.

Mottley said that while the area produces most of the healthy food for the people, “most of our young people are eating macaroni pie and chips.

‘We have to change that. We need to work with fast food organizations…and get them to change their menus. It is not enough for us to make speeches about colonialism… if we are not ready to change people’s access to food,” she said, adding that she had also had discussions with a major manufacturer of soft drinks and that the region still had to have a calorie counter.


Michael M. Tomlin