Guyana made good progress on Wednesday by holding the opening meeting of the Caribbean Community Special Ministerial Task Force (Caricom) on Food Production and Food Safety.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the Region and the world at large, much has not been discussed about the issue of agriculture and food security. However, we have always asserted that food security for the Region is as important as any other issue, and must be treated as such by Governments and other development partners.
For Guyana, we have been at the forefront of the years in pushing for an effective agriculture and food security strategy. In December 2020, at the seventh virtual Heads of State Summit of Caricom and the Republic of Cuba, President Dr Irfaan Ali once again brought the issue of regional food security to the spotlight. The President used the opportunity to press the Caribbean Community (Caricom) to review the inter-regional trade mechanism and its food security in an effort to strengthen the bloc and place a greater focus on the Agriculture and Food Safety Strategy.
We believe that Regional Heads need to place more emphasis on developing their agriculture sector and making the kind of investments necessary to ensure that the Region is not only food-safe, but that we are producing enough to exploit export markets , in order to gain foreign exchange.
It may be recalled that former President Bharrat Jagdeo, who had responsibility for Agriculture at Caricom’s quasi-Cabinet, sought assistance from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Inter-American Cooperation Organization in 2002 on Agriculture ( IICA) to further the Region’s efforts to ensure its food safety. A year later, it proposed that the Region build on its past efforts to develop a common agricultural policy, and asked the IICA and FAO to support the Caricom Secretariat to develop a framework for relocating agriculture in the Region.
Underlining the problems facing the agricultural sector in the Region, Jagdeo stressed that in the changing global environment, the sector was not providing for food security or gaining the foreign exchange it was needed to cover the Region’s growing food import bill.
In addition, at the Caricom Heads of Government Conference in Grand Anse, Grenada, Jagdeo presented a paper, entitled “A Framework for the Relocation of Caribbean Agriculture”. In that framework, he emphasized the need for a regional policy and strategy aimed at strengthening food security and alleviating poverty; and in January 2005, the President’s proposal was formally called the “Jagdeo Initiative”, with the theme, “Strengthening Agriculture for Sustainable Development”.
The declining role of agriculture in the Region, the continued loss of favorable markets for the Region’s traditional products, and the rapidly increasing extra-regional food import bill are among the serious and challenging issues highlighted in the Initiative. However, although there has been much disarray on the subject, it is not clear what definite steps have been taken (if any) since then to strengthen the Region’s agricultural sector and bring it to a level envisaged in the “Jagdeo Initiative” .
Regional Governments would need to demonstrate through their actions that they are prepared to go beyond the rhetoric. Guyana has made tremendous efforts to ensure that it produces enough to meet the demands of its citizens.
As we are currently doing, other countries would need to organize themselves and their individual farming sectors, and encourage young people to embrace new technologies to see farming and agriculture as a business. By doing so, the Region would not only ensure that there was enough food to meet people’s needs, but the surplus of what could be produced could be exported.
Several years on, many of the proposals detailed in the Jagdeo Initiative still apply, and may be needed even more now, given the changing global dynamics of its compare with countries that produce enough to meet the needs of their populations and to satisfy export markets.
President Ali’s call for countries to develop an effective agriculture and food security strategy is another reminder of Guyana’s commitment to the issue of food security.

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