Need for brand-new approaches to age-old regional problems
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Part 3: CARICOM Can Be The World’s Next Net-Food-Exporting Region!

I’VE been attending and covering CARICOM summits for as long as I’ve been writing since 1976, and as always, I set out this year to follow the opening ceremony in Paramaribo last Sunday evening.

Annual summits tend to have recurring agenda items and this the 43rd in CARICOM’s 49th year is no different, except the context in which it is taking place has long forced the leaders to give the most urgent attention ever, to how global developments outside the region continue to result in the most serious and worsening, ongoing and spiralling problems of the past two decades — from 9/11 in New York and the US 2008 sub-prime mortgage crisis, through to Climate Change, COVID, Supply Chain Disruptions, the Ukraine war and the resulting skyrocketing effects on food and fuel prices, threatening regional food security like never before.

Guyana was congratulated Sunday night in Suriname for its sterling leadership of CARICOM’s regional agriculture portfolio, significantly since COVID and Ukraine, setting new stages for the region to seriously and urgently cut its US $5 Billion+ food-import bill by 25% by 2025.

Now halfway through the 25×25 time period, Guyana’s President, Dr Irfaan Ali, has assured the region and the world that his nation will continue to provide the leadership it is being credited for.

But unlike pre-COVID summits when leaders were accused every year of participating in regional ‘talk shops,’ coming just-over four months after Ukraine and with more than four times the worries posed by the fiscal challenges that have accumulated over two decades and have simply pierced the region’s sky, the 2022 Paramaribo summit has forced most leaders to accept they simply have to look beyond national and regional boundaries and borders in the search for the new solutions to old problems that continue returning and the new ones that bore deeper holes in people’s pockets and bank accounts, making food, fuel, public transportation prices simply unaffordable for many more in many more places everywhere.

Even with the time to accelerate efforts to achieve the 25×25 target, individual member-states still suffer shortages of essential food supplies produced regionally, as in Saint Lucia, where a sugar-import crisis has lingered for weeks, and where the Philip J. Pierre administration’s Cabinet met on how to shield consumers from the astronomical prices for bread.

Unfortunately, in these times of extreme crises facing average consumers, many private sector supermarkets, community grocers and household shops take legal advantage of the absence of discouragement by private sector bodies to engage in price-gouging practices, ranging from hoarding to conditional coupling of the scarce item with purchase of others. Indeed, I was appalled when told last week that the only guaranteed way I could get my usual five pounds of sugar would be to buy a full 100-pound sack.

As President Dr Irfaan Ali pointed out in his CARICOM Day message, the second-half of the ongoing 25×25 plan will require cooperation like never before, between private and public sector agricultural agencies, including all already involved in agricultural and agro-industrial production and the new innovative agri-businesses mushrooming across the region, as seen in the various components of the Agri Forum and Expo hosted by Guyana in mid-May.

But while agriculture and food security are acknowledged to be in good hands, today’s challenges have also forced today’s regional leaders to look beyond normal borders and boundaries — The Bahamas’ leader visioning a ‘CARICOM Federation,’ the Suriname President envisioning ‘a CARICOM Cricket team,’ the Saint Lucia Prime Minister calling for (effectively) making LIAT ‘a CARICOM Airline’ and confirming the island will be joining the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ); the new Grenada leader signalling his intent to significantly upgrade the ward islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique in the new list of national priorities of the three-island state under his watch, and Suriname appealing to colleagues to make its Youth Development portfolio successful over the next year, in a region where 75% of citizens are not yet 31.

Three new, elected leaders were welcomed (The Bahamas, Grenada and Saint Lucia) to the CARICOM fold; and three more illustrious Caribbean citizens were awarded with the Order of the Caribbean Community (OCC): Antigua & Barbuda’s Sir Vivian Richards, Barbados’ Dame Billie Miller and Dominica’s Irwin LaRoq for their respective contributions to governance, cricket and diplomacy.

Monday, CARICOM Day, was a holiday only in Guyana, where the regional movement was born in 1973 and has since hosted the Secretariat, described by Ambassador LaRoq as ‘the regional movement’s engine room.’

The regional ship of state, under its first woman at the helm, faces a series of monumental and gender-neutral political and economic, social and cultural challenges over the next year, but from all said and seen Sunday night ahead of their first communal observance of CARICOM Day since COVID, citizens across the region and beyond will, as always, await not just the final communique, but for the sights and sounds that will give them enough reason to be optimistic about the months and years ahead.

But as of now, as the community speeds towards its 50th anniversary, agriculture and food security continue to be the most urgent and pressing challenges that can be faced collectively in the best ways, for the finest sustainable results.

After all, CARICOM citizens must eat – and must therefore produce more of what is eaten and simply stop buying imported foods than can be produced locally, even planting kitchen gardens (as I’ve done) to save the region from worsening of the food crises already affecting too many in too many everywhere.

Now more than ever too, thanks to the home effects of the accelerating world food crisis just over 130 days after the Ukraine war, CARICOM also stands the best chance ever, led by Guyana, of taking the next necessary actions to become the world’s next new and net-food-exporting region.

Without doubt: Yes we can!

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