Press release 375/2010
(28 September 2010)

REDUCE THE TOTAL FOOD IMPORT BILL - CARICOM MEETING TO REVIEW DRAFT POLICY FOR FOOD SECURITY HEARS
 

 
(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) Calls for concerted efforts to reduce the total food import bill in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) resonated at the Validation Workshop for the Draft CARICOM Regional Policy for Food and Nutrition Security, which opened in Georgetown, Guyana on September 28, 2010.

The Workshop, coordinated by the CARICOM Secretariat in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations with funding from the Government of Italy and the European Union is being held to determine whether the draft policy takes into consideration all the components that should be included in a regional framework for food and nutrition security.

Specialists in the field of agriculture, trade, health, nutrition, and representatives of regional institutions including Caribbean Agricultural Research Development Institute (CARDI) and the University of the West Indies (UWI), and international partners are gathered at Princess Hotel, Providence, East Bank Demerara, for the workshop over the next two days.

At the opening ceremony, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, Assistant Secretary-General, Trade and Economic Integration at the CARICOM Secretariat, and the Honourable Robert Persaud, Minister of Agriculture, Guyana both sounded concerns about Region’s reliance on food imports.

“Our continued reliance on food imports, instead of reducing has actually been increasing,” Minister Persaud said.

Providing statistics to substantiate his statement, he said, twenty years ago, Caribbean nations accounted for more than two percent of the world’s agricultural trade, but that share had declined to less than 0.3 percent today.

“Our net agriculture trade was surplus then – standing at around 3 billion US dollars. Today we are in a deficit, paying over USD$ 3.5 Billion annually to import our food,” he lamented.

Even more noteworthy, Minister Persaud stated, was that shifting trade patterns had not aided the Region economically, but had exacerbated economic inequalities and increased poverty and contributed to security challenges in the Community.

“This strategy must work towards removing barriers that our Region now faces in international trade and taking into account socio-economic impacts,” he stated.

Ambassador LaRocque said the Region had found itself at a point where access to safe and nutritious food was plagued by the rising cost of food and agriculture inputs; the displacement of small domestic farmers by cheaper food imports which were not necessarily healthy foods; the macroeconomic costs from the growing food import bill; the sharp downturn in remittances and the increased health costs of treating chronic diseases associated with nutritionally poor diets.

“This critical situation that we are now facing raises the question: How did we get here?” Ambassador LaRocque said.

Quoting from the President of Guyana, His Excellency Bharrat Jagdeo’s statement at the World Food Summit in Roma in 2009, Ambassador LaRocque said, “the Region was seduced by the importation of cheap food and paid less attention to food security.”

This situation can be reversed, he posited, through increased regional content in food consumption, increased use of local inputs feeds and fertilizers, and increased productivity of land, labour and capital in the agricultural sector.

He added that reduced reliance on foreign food also hinged on the development of agriculture industries, buttressed by increased private sector investments and regional production.

Efforts must be made to influence the taste and preference of households to consume nutritionally balanced foods as a means of safeguarding against chronic non-communicable diseases which were prevalent in the Region, Ambassador LaRocque stated.

In response to soaring expenditure on food imports, he said that CARICOM Heads of Government in 2009 adopted the Liliendaal Declaration in which they acknowledged that inadequate resources for agricultural development was a major impediment to dealing with the constraints on the development of the Region’s domestic food industry.

“The Heads of Government recognised that the challenges we face in ensuring our food and nutrition security are multi-dimensional and require an urgent and coherent response in a wide range of sectors, namely, food production, trade, health, education and social welfare,” Ambassador LaRocque stated.

Against this backdrop, he said that the Regional Policy for Food and Nutrition Security would give effect to the Liliendaal Declaration which makes the commitment to “pursue a strategic approach to transforming the agriculture sector into an internationally competitive sector with increased capacity to contribute to the sustained economic development of the Region, the economic livelihood of entrepreneurs, the rural sector and to food and nutrition security.”

Contact: piu@caricom.org
 

 
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