Circumstances now dictate a greater emphasis on building capacity towards greater self-sufficiency in the agri-food sector. This reality is even more urgent, given the onset of the annual hurricane season which is forecasted to bring several severe storms to the Region.CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque
Remarks to the Virtual Meeting of CARICOM Ministers of Agriculture, Financial Institutions, Donor Organisations and Donor Countries
Support for CARICOM Agri-Food and Food Security Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Today’s discussions could not be more timely and relevant, as the Region, like the rest of the world grapples with the health, economic and social issues arising out of the impact of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.
The measures to combat the pandemic are resulting in a large contraction in economic activity globally and the effect is disproportionately deeper in the Caribbean.
The necessary social distancing and stay-at-home orders have contributed to agricultural market disruption, particularly, regarding harvest and the sale of fresh produce, meat, fish and a range of other value-added agri-food products.
In addition, due to job losses and reduced income, many consumers have had to reduce their expenditures and shift their consumption patterns to processed foods, much of which are imported.
The collapse of tourism, along with the shrinkage of the food service sector, has resulted in an unwelcome surplus of certain agricultural supplies (poultry, vegetables, fish) in several Member States. The pandemic undoubtedly has brought about an unprecedented shock to the Region’s agri-food system.
Circumstances now dictate a greater emphasis on building capacity towards greater self-sufficiency in the agri-food sector. This reality is even more urgent, given the onset of the annual hurricane season which is forecasted to bring several severe storms to the Region.
This crisis has, however, provided us with an opportunity to build resilience and enhance our food security. We must take actions that would ensure that we produce the food supplies to sustain our Region, along with the necessary capacity to distribute such supplies. It is our chance to reach for the goal of reducing our food import bill by 25 percent within the next 5 years.
The Region must now place maximum emphasis on restoring and facilitating intra-regional trade in agri-food products. To do so, a system for actively linking buyers to sellers needs to be put in place, along with removing technical barriers to intra-regional trade.
I am concerned about what appears to be the abuse of such measures. This is an untenable situation that must be rectified if we are to make the requisite progress towards our goals.
It is my hope that the current project funded by the European Union and being implemented by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), in partnership with key Regional Institutions, will assist in addressing that constraint.
The other major constraint impeding the growth of trade in the sector is transportation. A study conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) found that CARICOM intra-regional trade can double if we address issues relating to transportation, trade facilitation and SPS measures.
CARICOM has adopted a Multi-Lateral Air Services Agreement (MASA) which could potentially assist the sector, but efforts to develop the regional maritime transportation sector continue to be challenging. It is an area that is crying out for investment, but so far has not attracted sufficient interest from the private sector.
The regional private sector has been working with governments to devise strategies to build resilience and enhance food security. Dialogue has been initiated at the highest level, our Heads of Government, with the CARICOM Private Sector Organisation (CPSO) which has submitted a plan for increasing investment in the agri-food sector in order to reduce the food import bill. The CPSO is also part of the Regional COVID-19 Food Security Task Force, which includes representation from Member States and Regional Institutions.
Our major initiative is the CARICOM COVID-19 Agri- Food Security Action Plan, which was prepared by the CARICOM Secretariat, in collaboration with partner organisations, including IICA, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI).
The Plan outlines interventions to be undertaken by Member States and regional organisations to treat with the immediate agri-food supply needs arising from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to strengthen the Region’s food and nutrition security in the ensuing years.
The Plan has the full endorsement of CARICOM Heads of Government and, in addition, Hemispheric Ministers of Agriculture have agreed to support the Region.
Among the immediate actions included in the Plan are:
- the creation of a trade and information portal for Member States and the private sector to access information with the aim of linking excess production with food deficits throughout the Region;
- intervention by the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA) and national Agricultural Health and Food Safety (AHFS) authorities in implementing SPS measures and protocols to facilitate intra-regional agri-food trade; and
- promoting the availability of relevant planting material, agricultural inputs and livestock feeds.
Long term actions include the promotion of scientific and technological innovations across all aspects of the agriculture value chain, as well as strategies to create an information and statistical system to support evidence-based decision-making, and to strengthen the financial architecture surrounding agriculture and agribusiness.
Implementation will be under the leadership of the COVID-19 Food Security Taskforce, which is chaired by Honourable Saboto Caesar Minister of Agriculture of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I want to thank Minister Caesar for his leadership and his presentation to the Heads of Government when they approved the Plan.
These are measures that have been initiated by CARICOM Governments, as we seek not only to respond to the immediate challenge posed by COVID-19, but also to build our resilience in the agri-food sector and to enhance our food security.
In laying out the plans and actions being undertaken to fulfil the goals of resilience and security, I do so fully aware that accomplishing them requires the co-operation and assistance of our Development Partners. The recovery from this crisis depends on no country or region being left behind.
We are committed to doing everything we can to help ourselves, but this is not a crisis that can be defeated by countries on their own and your support is crucial to our successful recovery. I look forward to working with the agencies attending this Session in our quest to achieve our aims