THE philosophy that led to formation of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is grounded in the collective determination of the Region’s peoples and their development. Consequently, a number of attendant institutions were established with the aim of harnessing the cultural, economic, political and social resources of the Region for empowerment of its peoples.
The vision and goals of the Founding Fathers (Forbes Burnham, Errol Barrow, Eric Williams and Michael Manley) were premised on indigenous programmes, utlising the resources of the Region towards satisfying the needs of the Region, and competing internationally. Ideas emerged, such as using the energy resources of Trinidad and bauxite of Jamaica and Guyana to produce aluminium, rather than exporting the raw material to the developed world to be processed. It was also determined that while Caribbean islands concentrate on tourism and Trinidad and Tobago on manufacturing, Guyana, with its vast landmass, would be tasked with the responsibility of producing most of the food.
In that regional bodies recently engaged in discussions about the Region’s food bill, with an aim that includes channelling a focus on indigenous production and re-acculturation to taste, this focus serves as a reminder that the vision of the Founding Fathers remains relevant.
In addition to the Region shouldering a staggering and unsustainable food-import bill of more than US$2B annually, it serves as a reminder of the untapped potential within the Region.
The need to engage in a sustained indigenous programme has been tried before with measured success. Guyana, for instance, had a self-sustainable development policy that saw the canning of local food and fruits made into preserves for local and foreign consumption. It would be remembered that our dried carambola (five-finger) was exported to the European market, bringing much-needed foreign exchange.
This country still has room to create a 21st-century manufacturing hub that would advance the nation from a primary-product producer to being a value-added one. As a nation that produces sugar in abundance, with the price of sugar falling on the world market, opportunities exist for value-added production in confectionery and so forth. Staples such as rice, cassava, plantain, breadfruit and other ground provisions can see value added in the form of cereals, flour and toiletries, in addition to their also being seen as healthy alternatives to wheat. To some extent, there has been movement such as in ethanol from sugar and the re-opening of a cassava mill; but this new era must see new challenges set and boundaries surpassed.
While CARICOM countries are signatories to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), nothing prevents the Region, individually or collectively, from creating thriving cottage industries, which would not only see opportunities for income-generation, but would also generate pride in production.
It ought to raise eyebrows that the Region is yet to take its competitive place among other nations. This can be easily gleaned from a visit to the market, where plantain chips and herbal teas, for instance — which can be produced locally — are sold with labels showing they were imported from Central America, USA or Britain.
Products made in China are being sold in the Region at prices that force local manufacturers out of business — affecting employment and incomes for locals. At the regional level, bringing the people together in co-opetition, a term that speaks to competitive cooperation at inter-organisational or intra-organisational levels, is deserving of attention. Co-opetition allows for member states to collectively engage in research and development, even as they compete for markets. Competition, grounded by strong universal guidelines, allows for the unleashing of potential, sharing of ideas and looking at who best can produce what, at what cost, and with what resources.
Building on the premises that guided regional forerunners is also useful. There was a time when Guyana bought soap from the Commonwealth of Dominica at a higher price relative to cost outside the Region. Such act was guided by the principle underpinning sustainable development, inclusive of opportunities for the Region’s peoples.
Trinidad, as the oil-producing country, gave credit to member states such as Guyana with the aim of ensuring the industries of production in the various regions were operational. Other benefits were employment across the Region and minimisation of large-scale migration with potential for creating shocks to social systems, thereby contributing to inner-city slums, increasing poverty, etc. Possibilities are within reach.
The presence of indigenous education, the Guyana School of Agriculture (GSA), the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institution (NAREI), the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) are institutions providing the needed foundational pillars to unleash, harness and support the Region’s intellectual (human) capital.
As a new era of development approaches, wherein the world intends to make real the establishment of a Green Economy, it is apposite to note that the dreams and aspirations of CARICOM are still relevant to development today.
The Region stands on the foundation needed to guide actions that would not only see reduction in its food bill, but also ensure food security, putting its peoples to work, and ultimately development for the benefit of all.