Powered by Guyana, a newly-energized Caricom is pressing ahead with an ambitious plan to reduce the region’s US $ 6 billion food import bill by 25 per cent within the next three years.

The goal of “25 by 2025” got real at Caricom’s recent meeting of leaders in Belize when Guyana’s President, Dr Irfaan Ali, announced that Republic Bank will be offering up to US $ 100 million in financing for the development of the region’s agricultural sector.

According to him, Republic Bank is prepared to fund a variety of projects, including the development of priority crops, capital equipment for farming, feeder access roads to arable lands, bulk storage for crops, processing plants and shade house farming at interest rates starting at 2.5 per cent

As the leader of land-rich Guyana and the head of Caricom’s Special Ministerial Taskforce on Agriculture, Agricultural Diversification and Food Security, Dr Ali is well-positioned to put serious muscle behind food security — one of the most challenging issues facing the Caribbean.

To advance its efforts, Guyana will host a regional agricultural investment forum in Georgetown from May 19 to 21 to facilitate intense consultations between the region’s public and private sectors on investment opportunities. According to PM Mia Mottley of Barbados, the planned forum is a “necessary prerequisite for us going further because, without money, we won’t have the ability to help the farmers”.

Given our own towering food production problems, we would expect T&T to send a strong delegation with active participation in this event.

With the Caribbean already contending with massive economic problems of reduced income, debt overload and increased risks of climate change-induced natural disasters, food security is now threatened by rising food prices, global commodity shortages and supply bottlenecks fueled by political instability and devastating climate conditions . Already, the impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine is being felt in parts of the Middle East and North Africa, and can be expected to reach us through supply shortages and inflation.

In the face of the region’s looming scenario of crisis, Caricom is demonstrating an exciting new energy. Central to this shift is the powerful alliance developing between Barbados and Guyana anchored in trade facilitation of mutual benefit. A major development that will dynamise this alliance is the decision taken by Caricom leaders in Belize to support the policy of Enhanced Co-operation.

Arguably the single most important development within Caricom in decades, Enhanced Co-operation aims to eliminate Caricom’s massive implementation deficit, the biggest bugbear hampering its progress. Once ratified by two-thirds of the member countries, groups of at least three Member States will be able to proceed with projects without the approval of all members. In short, the more progressive Caricom members will not be held back by laggards who will now have the choice of either getting on board or missing the boat. This is exactly the kind of shake-up Caricom has long needed.

Judging from the speed at which Guyana and Barbados are moving to consolidate their efforts towards regional food security, “25 by 2025” could be within reach.

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