Caribbean Food Insecurity Post-COVID and Ukraine
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Part 8: Following the Food!
By Earl Bousquet
THE May 19-21 Guyana Agricultural Investment Forum and Expo, attended by government leaders and delegations from Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Montserrat, Trinidad and Tobago, was more than just a historic regional first.
It also opened the way for local innovators to market and display new ideas for tackling old problems and set the stage for local and regional public and private sector entities to talk-the-talk — and also to walk-the-walk.
The event was all about reducing the Caribbean’s US$6 Billion food-import bill by 25 per cent and pulling the region (at least a quarter-way, hopefully) out of its current level of food insecurity, in three years – quite an ambition, but not impossible today, the only missing element being the will for governments (primarily) to do what it’ll take at home to achieve that laudable, but hitherto elusive regional goal.
President, Dr Irfaan Ali’s opening address (and comments to the press before and since) have left no doubt that Guyana is ready and willing and has taken huge first steps by investing the highest sums ever in different aspects of agriculture, from livestock and poultry to fishing, aquaculture — and exploring future wheat production.
The central and underlying common denominator in all that was discussed between last Thursday and Saturday in Georgetown was Caribbean food, of which there is always enough available in each country, but never the means to ensure equitable distribution to the most needy.
Indeed, Guyana – at 83,000 square miles — can alone plant and grow enough to feed the entire CARICOM region, but it’s also the prime duty and responsibility of every government to meet each nation’s food needs at home by investing more time and resources in new approaches to agriculture, while also taking serious steps to increase access of local products to local and regional markets.
Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit passionately pleaded for fellow leaders to do more to protect regional farmers and their produce against cheaper or less healthy food imports – and explained why and how Dominica imports rice and sugar only from Guyana; and flour only from St. Vincent & The Grenadines.
As Skerrit also posited, the current generation of 21st Century CARICOM leaders have demonstrated before that they do have the political will to go where their predecessors haven’t.
The three-day event also opened the way for better understanding of why the future of agriculture lies with the region’s youth, as of today.
Along the lines of the new concept of ‘The Youth Economy,’ there’s much scope for attracting youth to modern agriculture without any of the back-breaking manual labour that’s kept too many away for much too long.
Today’s youth have started and will continue to think-up the new ideas to be pursued in these new times, with modern tools and methods still very new and strange to the aging adults still largely keeping the industry alive the world over, but which represent aspects of normal youthful thinking today about how to turn challenges into opportunities.
The number of certified but unemployed youth across the Caribbean has long provided ongoing and worsening proof of the failure of governments (primarily) to cater for creating jobs for every qualified person in developing economies, where there’s always need for work.
The human and natural resources do exist today across the region to ensure that the likes of Saint Lucia Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre’s oft-repeated noble aim to ensure “a university graduate in every home” — and that (most importantly) each is also employed.
Agriculture today also offers endless opportunities to fundamentally alter the prevailing conditions that still feed the brain drain, while the region is starved of local food.
Modern agriculture has moved by leaps and bounds, beyond the normal thinking of the world’s average citizen — and thanks to the existing global media landscape, information is always readily available to start a new thinking process.
Every Sunday, for example, the BBC presents a feature called ‘Follow The Food’ (sponsored by Corteva Agri-Science and presented by botanist James Wong).
It’s self-described as ‘an in-depth multimedia series examining the biggest pressures on the world food system, from soil loss to malnutrition, and the solutions to help overcome them…’
This well-presented series is well worth watching, from the standpoint of how far the world has gone addressing and trying to resolve agriculture’s traditional problems by marrying farming, science and food in ways never imagined by those who plant and reap by hand and live by hand to mouth.
It examines issues such as population growth versus food production, in a situation where the global hamburger industry has grown to US $85 Billion in 20 years, resulting in farmers producing more meat today than planting crops.
With more need to improve the protein intake of the world’s population, some advocate removing animal production from the equation altogether (because of its negative influences on the atmosphere and the planet), while others argue for diversifying sources of protein from plants.
With livestock rearing taking up more land than food, some also recommend improving the protein intake of animals by feeding them better (and healthier) varieties of grass.
But all animal rearing comes at a cost to planting crops, as with egg production: chickens are fed with grain, which has to be planted — so one big European company is indeed already making and marketing ‘carbon-neutral’ eggs.
With half the world’s arable land dedicated to agriculture and 70 per cent of its surface covered by water, aquaculture is creating underwater farms at a faster pace than ever, with harvesting of everything from seaweed to sea moss gaining everywhere from increased production, with less harm to the environment.
Indeed, ‘Follow The Food’ is a programme I would recommend that every CARICOM agriculture minister and related decision-maker — and everyone else, young or old – watch whenever possible, if only because it shows that improving food production and food security does not have to come at the cost of our tastebuds, or to farmers.

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