Caribbean Food Insecurity Post-COVID and Ukraine
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Part 7: Matching Bankable Projects and Available Financing with Industrial Hemp and Cassava

GUYANA’S President, Dr Irfaan Ali, as Lead Head-of-Government responsible for Agricultural Diversification and Food Security within CARICOM, presented a detailed Action Plan for commercialising the agri-food sector and attaining the vision of reducing regional food imports by 25 per cent in 2025, at the 33rd Inter-Sessional Conference of regional Heads-of-Government in Belize last March.

The leaders agreed that the Agri-Investment Forum and Expo that started in Georgetown on Wednesday would be an appropriate platform to tackle the issue of investment in the sector – and they’re now here.

The expo was opened to the public and the forum featured a Donors Roundtable, where agencies such as the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and World Food Programme (WFP) discussed opportunities with CARICOM states.

Today brings together potential investors and other stakeholders on ‘New and emerging opportunities in CARICOM’s agriculture’, as well as ‘Matching of bankable agricultural projects with available private and public financing,’ as well as a Plenary on ‘Advancing the Agri-Food System Agenda.’

CARICOM’s Assistant Secretary General for Economic Integration, Innovation and Development, Joseph Cox, said Monday, “We have to now move up the value chain and get that additional value-added in our economies.”

Industrial Hemp is one of many such areas that offers ‘new and emerging opportunities in Caribbean agriculture,’ and is also a ‘bankable agricultural project’ to be ‘matched with available private and public funding’ – and Guyana is not just looking at its possibilities, but clearing the way for its legal introduction.

The government has presented an Industrial Hemp Bill in the National Assembly to provide for cultivation of hemp and pave the way for its use for manufacturing purposes and related research.

Industrial Hemp is a value-added agro-industrial product that can change the way people relate to cannabis and wean many off the thought that the only cannabis is marijuana.

Those who’ve followed the quiet growth of that now-global marijuana industry that was in place before the US, UK and Canada turned to legalising marijuana, point to the way those who are unaware express astonishing disbelief when shown catalogues of what the hemp can produce, including biofuel and bioplastics, clothing, food, insulation, paper, rope, shoes, textiles — and much more.

The hemp is also rich in protein, unsaturated fats, fibre, minerals and vitamins and it protects the brain, boosts heart health, reduces inflammation, improves skin conditions and relieves rheumatoid arthritis.

According to a recent Guyana Chronicle report, “The Global Industrial Hemp Markets Report 2021-2028 (published by GlobeNewswire in November 2021) states that the global industrial hemp market size is expected to reach over US$12 Billion by 2028 and to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 16.2 per cent from 2021 to 2028.

President Ali, back in March, also expressed optimism that Guyana could develop a viable hemp industry, saying: “The hemp industry is not only about hemp production, but it is about having the processing and value-added facilities here in Guyana and these can generate jobs, because these are industries that have high-value return.”

Regulated sale of marijuana products and the profitability of the legally approved ventures have also seen the integration of the banking and other commercial sectors.

Marijuana use as a sacred herb by Jamaica’s Rastafarians was smoked out by the commercial trafficking of the holy herb being outlawed and possession and use of which were also illegal for decades, first-time offenders caught with ‘a spliff’ representing the majority in overcrowded Caribbean prisons (as well as in the USA and UK), which is still a problem today – but certainly not much longer in Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Grenada and other CARICOM states, where legislation has been relaxed or overhauled to allow for citizens to legally possess prescribed amounts for medical or recreational purposes at home and open exclusive, legally approved marijuana sale and recreational outlets with medical doctors on hand.

Guyana has obviously opted for a careful, phased approach, starting with Industrial Hemp (also called Indian Hemp) and legislation that allows for limitless research into all extended positive possibilities.

CARICOM leaders in Georgetown today can share their own related national experiences — and simultaneously learn from Guyana’s, which is what the regional agricultural summit is all about.
But today’s session will also lay the basis for participants to seek to preserve and protect, even revive traditional agricultural products left on the supermarket and grocery shelves by customers opting for imported refined products – such as arrowroot, produced from the cassava plant, which the region’s First People cultivated before the Europeans arrived in 1492 and still remains one of the most nutritious indigenous Caribbean foods on which succeeding generations grew and survived over centuries, from cradle to grave.

Every CARICOM member-state — bar none – annually loses countless potential income from nutritious fruits allowed to go to waste due to oversupply and under-consumption — from mangoes and dunks, golden apples and soursop to cherries and plums (and so much more…)

But each fruit allowed to fall off trees or left hanging off branches just because they’re considered of no market value is a potentially new (but not yet even emerging) possibility in an endless number of opportunities representing challenges to those who’ll match bankable agricultural projects with available private and public sector funding.

Indeed, just as every challenge brings opportunities, new opportunities also bring their challenges, including overcoming historical underappreciation of the overwhelming possibilities that have gone to waste over time and exploring the new avenues opened up by current global, regional and national food needs.

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