The Regional Agri Investment Forum and Expo II got underway in Port of Spain on Friday with calls for the Caribbean private sector to completely back the region’s efforts to significantly reduce its multi-billion dollar food import bill.
“I join my colleagues, who spoke before and appeal to the private sector, to not be immune to these developments and these initiatives, but to get on board and be the distributor of the local produce somewhat than being the commission agent of the imported produce,” host Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley, told the greater than two-hour opening ceremony.
“It shouldn’t be going to occur overnight because food takes time to grow, animals take time to grow, use that point to alter the formulae of trade, to alter the distribution pattern. If we’re going to feed ourselves by doing local production and you might be a distributor, get on board within the local production,” Rowley said, emphasising that’s the reason the event known as an investment forum.
“Invest now of your time, your finance, your expertise in what you are promoting and in your countries, in your region and be a part of the answer and never be a part of the issue,” Rowley said, acknowledging that there have been many business houses within the region that “make profit of being the commission agent to any individual who’s farming outside of our region.
“There’s nothing incorrect with that, no shame in that, however the time has come to place your foot down in your yard…and help to construct the capability inside the region,” he said, telling small farmers that the initiative to develop the region’s agricultural sector shouldn’t be designed to take them out of the market.
“We usually are not here talking about displacing or replacing you. We’re talking about supplying you with more capability, but there must be systems in order that your input might be successful for you and your families.”
Earlier, chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Private Sector Organisation (CPSO), Gervase Warner, said that over the previous few years, the region’s food import bill was in excess of US$4 billion.
“That’s before the crisis of inflation that we’ve got without delay,” he told the gathering.
“Against this backdrop there may be the emergence of some worrying protectionist policies that I do know in our negotiations we’ve got been attempting to work against,” Warner said, adding that there have been “big food-producing countries” that were now implementing food export bans…
“Imagine that the World Trade Organisation had to truly have a gathering and ban the banning of food exports for humanitarian purposes. That’s the type of protectionist environment during which we’re finding ourselves with a must innovate and to handle our stories ourselves.
“Food security has clearly develop into front and centre, a critical issue for our own survival. It is vitally clear to us we usually are not going to get help from our colonisers of the past, we usually are not going to get help from big developing countries…That is our problem for us to handle.”
He acknowledged that the region “imports so much, actually we import over US$4 billion of food and agri-products from outside of the region and that doesn’t even take into accounts the entire economic activities related to producing that.
“So there is a large opportunity for us here within the Caribbean and I’m so proud to see that together we’re beginning to tackle doing this,” he said, adding that the CPSO has done some evaluation of the $4 billion import bill.
“We discover that there may be at the very least US$1.2 billion of opportunity and that’s our 25 per cent we’re going after by 2025.”
Warner said the region could do without importing cereals and staples which may very well 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, is a follow as much as the successful initiative held in Guyana in May and is being attended by several CARICOM leaders, regional private sector stakeholders including financial institutions.
Guyana’s President Dr. Irfaan Ali, who has lead responsibility for agriculture within the CARICOM quasi cabinet, in updating the conference, noted that the region had over the previous few months “made significant progress” in its quest to cut back the regional food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025.
“In Jamaica, for instance …we’ve got seen strong progress in achieving the goal….As of March 2022, they’ve reached 26 per cent of their goal with solid performances in onions, Irish potatoes particularly,” Ali said.
He said within the case of Trinidad and Tobago strong performances were registered particularly in poultry.
“For a goal of 83,000 metric tonnes, an amount of 66,500 metric tonnes was produced as much as June 2022.”
He said in Guyana over the primary half of the 12 months there was regular progress in every category.
“Our aim is to be sure that by the tip of 2024 we’re completely self-sufficient in…corn and soya. And that requires the capital investment of the remainder of the region and we’re open and prepared for this partnership with the private sector.”
Dr. Ali said within the case of poultry Guyana has attained a performance mark of 61 per cent, while for livestock overall, it had an attainment of 80 per cent
Ali said in St. Lucia production levels of fresh vegatables and fruits, poultry and pork have outstripped targets by June 2022. As an example, the goal volume was set at 91.4 metric tonnes for fruit and vegetables but by June 2022 production was reported to be 1.39 million metric tonnes.”
But he said that St. Lucia had, through the same period, imported 8.2 million metric tonnes.
‘So although we saw a major growth there remains to be an enormous gap within the import and the production,” Ali said, adding that member states have begun to reveal their commitment to the removal of barriers to trade inside CARICOM.
‘He said the establishment of a food terminal in Barbados with Guyana is an illustration of such commitment and that similar discussions are ongoing with Antigua, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago and other member states.
“In order we bolster production and productivity on the national level we’re also ensuring there is simpler access to markets,” he added.
Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley said Caribbean people will now determine how the region deals with the varied crises that affect food security and production.
“Our expectations need to change and our ability to have the opportunity to do things otherwise must also come to the table. We have now to start out eating what we grow and growing what we eat, and we’ve got to do it not only due to the economic requirements but due to the health requirements.”
Mottley said while the region grows many of the healthy food for the population “most of our children eat macaroni pie and fries”.
She added: “We’ve got to alter that. We have now to work with the fast food organisations…and get them to alter their menus. It shouldn’t be adequate for us to make speeches about colonialism…if we usually are not prepared to alter people’s access to the foods,” she said.