–President Ali advises Latin America, Caribbean stakeholders at CAF dialogue
–highlights importance of protecting most vulnerable states, investing in food production and farming
PRESIDENT, Dr. Irfaan Ali, has advised Latin American and Caribbean leaders to build inclusive and sustainable food systems to effectively tackle the issue of food security.
In a firm and passionate address during the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF)’s dialogue on Food Security in Latin America and the Caribbean, Dr. Ali said Guyana has taken major steps to enhance the country’s food production capacity and build an inclusive agricultural framework to deal with food security.
Key initiatives include the opening up of more farm lands, introduction of new crops, construction of shade houses, the granting of concessions to farmers and the expansion of the fishing industry with the inclusion of marine cage technology for instance, among many other things.
Although not directly advising leaders to replicate Guyana’s approach, President Ali said that vulnerabilities and uncertainties in the region’s food system must be fixed to make them more inclusive and sustainable in order to meet food security plans.
He said that national protection systems must be expanded, protecting the most vulnerable, maintaining food to supply markets, maintaining investment in food production and farming, and investing in green resilient and inclusive food systems.
“In Guyana, we have a policy that all the new investments in agriculture driven by technology will have a percentage owned by women. How are we going to ensure sustainability if we are not in the position to encourage the next generation of young people to be part of it? The next generation would then be able to create a sustainable framework for the production of food and the sustainability of the agriculture sector,” the Head of State said.
As Lead Head of Government in the CARICOM Quasi-Cabinet with responsibility for Agriculture, Food Security and Agricultural Diversification, Dr. Ali has spent much of the year promoting the region’s agenda for food security.
Much emphasis has been placed on the region’s 25 by 25 plan, which encompasses the region essentially reducing its food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025.
Over the past few years with the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by the war between Ukraine and Russia, compounded with a supply chain crisis, the issue of food security has come starkly into focus not only in the Caribbean but all across the world.
“We are seeing restrictions on international trade. Ultimately food security could be threatened by trade distortion of restrictions. Who is going to call out those that have restricted the movement of imported grains? This is a tough conversation that we must have because ultimately it is the person society that are mostly affected,” Dr. Ali said.
He went on to say: “Over the Last five years alone, in Latin America and the Caribbean, an additional 13.2 million persons were undernourished, much of whom are children and women. This has a direct impact on educational income and health outcomes. Issues of food security are inter-related on educational output.”
However, given their small size, and equally small bargaining power, many nations in the Caribbean have felt the brunt of the effects of the issues in securing food and medical supplies.
“In rural areas, the situation is highly distressing. Why are we not hearing about these statistics as headlines in newspapers? Is it that we are hiding this reality or is it that we don’t have the political will to shout this out to the population? These are questions that are extremely important if we are to address the problems,” Dr. Ali said.
The Head of State noted that key challenges which the region faces include the need for labour, and issues of transportation of food.
The President highlighted that challenges of this magnitude will require much financing, and put forth a case for encouraged investment in food security.
“As we move forward, we must be able to find innovative ways of bridging the [food security] gap, how are we going to bridge the financing gaps, how are we going to loans to increase production to help countries the invest in drainage and irrigation system to invest in smart agriculture,” Dr. Ali said.
He added: “Who is going to provide financing and what is the cost of financing? How are we going to work with the commercial banks to ensure that we not only access the financing is fixed but the cost financing. What are the incentives that you want to give to the banks? We have to look at this as a region and come with regional policies and programmes that will address this issue holistically.”