PRESIDENT, Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali has announced that US$100M will be made available as Special Concessional Financing Package aimed at helping to transform agriculture in the region. This is indeed a welcome development and is consistent with a desire on the part of regional leaders to bring down the huge sums of money spent on imported food in the region while at the same time boosting agricultural production in the region.
The announcement was made during a presentation to the 33rd Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM in Belize. Guyana has the lead role on Agricultural Diversification and Food Security in the region and has been a major supplier of agricultural products to the region, but the region continues to spend an inordinate sum of money on imported food, most of which can be produced locally in the region.
The aim is to reduce the food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025. There is no reason why meat, eggs, milk and dairy products and several other agricultural products have to be imported into the region given the potential to satisfy the full regional needs right here in the region. The same is true of other products such as coffee, cocoa, coconuts, spices, palm oil and a host of other products which, as pointed out by President Ali, could make a big impact on agricultural production in the region.
Guyana, with its vast and rich agricultural lands has the potential to satisfy a fair share of food needs of the region but there is need to upgrade the agricultural infrastructure and create an investment climate to boost production and productivity levels. To achieve this, as noted by President Ali, national expenditure on agriculture must be increased from average budgetary spending of 2.1 per cent to about five per cent. Guyana is currently spending way above the regional average on agriculture and President Ali has made a commitment to raise such spending even higher to 10 per cent of the national budget by 2025.
President Ali has outlined a vision for agricultural development in the region which will not only enhance food security but will also reduce foreign exchange expenditure on food and boost food production and productivity. In these times of severe food shortages in the world and rising food prices, this initiative could not be more timely and necessary. The financing mechanism announced by President Ali will allow for easier access to investment capital for agricultural purposes through the CARICOM Sustainability Agriculture Credit Facility using Republic Bank as a lender. This facility will cater for investment in agricultural activities such as the growing of crops, capital investments, construction of feeder roads, bulk storage capacities, processing plants and shade houses, among others. The facility will provide funding up to five years at significantly lower interest rates than that offered by the banking system. A sum of US$100M would be made available for that purpose.
And in yet another development, President Ali suggested the need for greater connectivity to facilitate easier movement of cargo with a view to enhancing food security in the region through enhanced maritime transport. It is a fact that the recent COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant disruptions in the food supply chain which has contributed to the rising cost of food items.
These are commendable initiatives on the part of President Ali which were well received by other regional leaders who expressed full support for President Ali’s passion for agricultural development and his strategic vision for transforming agriculture in the region.
In a keynote address to commemorate Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2021, President Ali had said that “It remains a travesty that our region, blessed with arable lands, abundant freshwater supplies and skilled agricultural workers, imports more than US$5 Billion annually. We have the means to slash original food import bill, produce more of the food we consume and in the process generate sustainable livelihoods through agriculture.”
This renewed emphasis on agricultural development emanating out of the deliberations of this 33rd Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM will no doubt give new and fresh impetus on the need to accelerate agricultural development in the region.