Golden opportunities to produce –regional annual food import bill over US$4.5B

FAO Representative to Guyana, Reuben Hamilton Robertson

WITH agriculture on the decline across the Caribbean, the region is now saddled with an annual food import bill that exceeds US$4.5B, according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Country Representative Reuben Hamilton Robertson.Put into perspective, Mr Robertson said: “So what we work for we spend it on imports”.

Mr Robertson is, however, of the opinion that all is not lost. Young people, he said, have a significant role to play if food and nutrition security is to be achieved within Guyana and the region.

Mr Robertson said most of the studies done on agriculture performance in the region have shown that it is declining in almost every country in the region.

“Foreign exchange from agriculture is also declining. We recognised also that our taste buds, as consumers and as a people, have developed an affinity for imported foods, where we go on the premise that what is imported is better than what is produced locally,” the FAO Representative asserted.

Through the studies, Mr Robertson said, it has been recognised that alongside the dietary habits are non-communicable diseases which governments grapple with, as there is a noticeable shift whereby young people — who are supposed to be the engine of growth — are shifting from the rural communities into urban areas in search of a better way of life.

“Agriculture, which was the mainstay of the rural communities, because of its declining trend, the rural livelihood which rural people eked out of agriculture is challenged. What is now surfacing (are) increasing incidences of poverty, which are opportunities there for young people,” Mr Robertson emphasised.

The FAO Representative noted that studies further revealed that the average age of farmers in the Caribbean is increasing, as the last statistics show the age to be 60, which reveals that many youths are not venturing into farming.

Sustainability in food and nutrition security needs to be taken on by the youths of today, Mr Robertson said, but most parents have educated their children out of agriculture.

“This happened because we don’t want them to be exposed to the risk, the uncertainties and harsh conditions that we see in traditional agriculture; and then we say young people have an aversion towards agriculture,” he said.

Questioning whether youths really don’t want to be a part of agriculture, Mr Robertson said while there are a number of young persons whose interest might be in different career opportunities, a large number of youths still want to embrace opportunities in agriculture.

“They want to have the opportunity, because they see the possibilities there to either do it full-time or part-time, and to eke (out) a living from it…. If an analysis is made, it will be found (that) all they have to give is their labour, nothing else,” he said.

He noted that it’s shameful to consider the golden opportunities to produce more food in the Caribbean, and significantly reduce the astronomically high annual food import bill.

Statistics reveal that, at a time of very low or no economic growth, many of the countries that comprise the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) continue to spend huge sums on buying food outside the Caribbean.

By Rabindra Rooplall