One trade expert is warning that a failure to urgently boost food security within the Caribbean and Africa will lead to a disaster of epic proportions in coming years.
This warning has come from Executive Director of the International Trade Centre (ITC) Pamela Coke-Hamilton, who also called on the Caribbean to maneuver with haste in reducing its food import bill.
Raising concern concerning the region’s growing vulnerability to external shocks, Coke-Hamilton told delegates on the AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum 2022 that “something is unsuitable in the way in which our global food system works”.
“Something is unsuitable with the continued commodity dependence in developing countries. We are able to now not survive on the last rung of the worth chain’s ladder,” she warned.
“If we don’t act now to spice up food security, we could have a crisis of epic proportions on our hands. Here within the Caribbean we’d like to handle the combined issue of hunger and nutrition. Our food consumption patterns lately have resulted in high levels of food imports,” she said.
With the region’s food import bill hovering around US$5 billion annually Coke-Hamilton said “The dependence on imports raises significant issues about food security.” She noted that the dependency on imports has also “ignited a silent pandemic of obesity and health-related issues”.
She raised concern that too often countries within the Caribbean and Africa were exporting products and earning negligibly when put next to the countries that were buying those products and producing value-added products that were then being sold back to the regions.
“I believe we must be concerned,” said Coke-Hamilton.
“Priceless foreign exchange continues to seep through our hands while little or no changes for the small-scale farmers whose exertions is just not sufficiently compensated,” she said, as she singled out the African continent and its struggle with hunger.
Coke-Hamilton was addressing day two of the three-day event being held on the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre under the theme One People, One Destiny: Uniting and Reimagining Our Future.
She said she welcomed the commitment by Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders to scale back the region’s food import bill by a minimum of 25 per cent by 2025, saying it should require “all hands on deck”.
Noting that the region could count on the ITC for support, the previous Caribbean Export executive urged authorities to place micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) at the center of that initiative. It will also require increased digital connectivity for farmers and agribusinesses, making agriculture climate resilient and increasing access to finance to assist MSMEs adapt and mitigate against climate change, she added.
“Increasing intra-regional trade may end up in increased food security, but first it requires the event of an ecosystem to assist African and Caribbean private sectors capitalise on market opportunities,” said Coke-Hamilton, who on Thursday reported that each regions had the potential to extend their trade with one another by as much as US$1 billion over the subsequent five years with the best actions and networks.
She also pointed to the necessity for countries to tackle issues referring to tariffs and “obstructive non-tariff measures” corresponding to high transportation costs, and investing in higher port and land freight infrastructure.
“We must take a holistic approach that focuses not only on trade of agricultural goods, but in addition agri-services,” she suggested.
Barbados’ Minister of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Security Indar Weir meanwhile expressed concern that the Caribbean had fallen short when it got here to the production of value-added products.
“Our region imports numerous primary agricultural produce, but greater than 60 per cent of what’s on our food import bill is available in value chain products, processed items, condiments and people forms of things. If we’re going to actually address the food import bill we now have to start out to know what it takes to get back to solid manufacturing in order that we will address a few of these issues,” said Weir.
Noting that there was a necessity for a “total revamp” of the agrifood systems within the region, he said the goal of reducing the region’s food import bill by a minimum of 25 per cent by 2025 was start.
He also urged farmers to maneuver away from a mindset that they’re hustling and never necessarily doing a business.
“It’s a business. We must move policy to drive people into the truth that training should be on the core of all of this. We must move people to the purpose that they recognise that they have to give you the chance to measure what they produce. They have to give you the chance to use cost, you could give you the chance to trace your operating expenditure and equally, we must move people to an area where they understand if we will grow it here, we eat what we grow, we grow what we eat and have healthier lives,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dr Renata Clarke, Sub-Regional Coordinator for the Caribbean Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said there have been several constraints to the region having a competitive edge in producing value-added products.
She identified high costs, regulation and lack of access as among the hindrances.
“The price of a healthy weight loss plan within the Caribbean is amongst the best on this planet, if not, the best. Not only must we be producing locally, but we should be producing efficiently,” she said.
Calling for greater collaboration amongst regional organisations and all industry stakeholders, Clarke also identified low production levels, lack of access to seeds and planting materials and poor infrastructure as other challenges to be addressed.
“There are various things which can be under the tip of the iceberg that need to be put in place to ensure we might be producing and marketing efficiently,” she said. (MM)