- Dr. the Honourable Keith Rowley, Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago;
- Your Excellency Chandrikapersad Santokhi, President of the Republic of Suriname and Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community;
- Other Heads of Government;
- Honourable Ministers;
- Head of Regional Institutions;
- International Development Partners;
- Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
- Young People of the Region;
- Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is indeed my pleasure to join you today at this regional Agri-Investment Forum and Expo, being hosted, in its second instalment, by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. This Forum and Expo is an opportunity for further practical engagement on the agri-food systems agenda, building on the recent Forum in May, and to facilitate targeted discussions on the strategic direction that the Region is taking towards safeguarding the food and nutrition security of its people. This is even more critical as we in CARICOM are faced with the increasing risk of food insecurity.
This Forum is one of the several regional responses to this grim reality. It follows the successful first edition held in Guyana and organised by the Lead Head of Government with responsibility for Agriculture, Agricultural Diversification and Food Security in the CARICOM Quasi-Cabinet, His Excellency Mohamed Irfaan Ali, President of Guyana.
Food and nutrition security, as a multi-dimensional issue has implications for a number of economic and social areas, including tourism, manufacturing, healthcare costs, education, culture and security.
As part of a high-level response, CARICOM through President Ali and the Special Ministerial Taskforce on Food Production and Food Security (MTF), has placed agriculture at the forefront of production-related policies, programmes and projects for the Region. The MTF is seeking to actively ensure a strong focus on innovation and technology transfer as we seek to increase production of the specially targeted commodities so at to achieve the target of 25% reduction in our food import bill by 2025.
This encompasses water management, market information, application of technological solutions, climate resilient planting materials, sustainable land and soil management, as well as the preservation of the Region’s bio-diversity. The aim is to increase agri-food production in ways that will also ensure the sustainable development of the Region’s agri-food system.
Declining rainfall and saltwater intrusion as a result of sea level rise compromise the Region’s water resources, requiring significant investments to ensure a safe water supply in the Region. This, together with higher temperatures, pests, reductions in the agricultural labour force and more extreme events are reducing yields in the Caribbean and causing more crop losses.
The results of the April 2022 CARICOM/World Food Programme livelihoods survey were quite discouraging. It concluded that the incidence of food insecurity is rising and is having a devastating effect on the people of the Region. The key messages, as daunting as they are, include:
- Food insecurity has further increased;
- Food prices are increasing; and
- People are adopting negative coping strategies to make ends meet.
To address these concerns, we have moved the talk to action. The plans and targets which we have set out for ourselves are coming together. We set out to tackle several obstacles that have been standing in our way for too long. We are, therefore, pleased to report the following advances:
- First, the approval of four (4) game-changing policy actions and strategies, namely, the:
- CARICOM Trade Policy for Animals and Animal Products which will create a harmonized procedure for all Member States within the Region;
- The Regional Agricultural Heath and Food Safety Policy;
- The Alternate Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Dispute Resolution Mechanism; and
- 19 Special Guidelines for the Trade in Animal and Plant Commodities.
- Second, we have strengthened partnerships with and among our stakeholders, including the CARICOM Private Sector Organization (CPSO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and several financial institutions.
- Third, we moved closer to the free movement of agricultural workers to support this agricultural transformation when the Heads of Government agreed to a definition of agricultural workers at the July Meeting of the Conference.
- Fourth, our work, through the Ministerial Task force and in collaboration with the CARICOM Private Sector Organisation, has led to agreement on the priority commodities for regional investment and further development.
Our regional and international development partners, including the FAO and IIICA have offered solid support for our 25% by 2025 regional food bill reduction programme. Also, the Summit of the Americas process has led to the establishment of a Committee of Caribbean and USA high-level representatives to consider mechanisms to support the strengthening of food security in the Region.
Achieving food and nutrition security and, in particular, achieving the early target of reducing food imports 25% by 2025, requires us to be all on board and all hands on deck. The challenging global economic conditions have given us the clearest indication that in order to survive as a Region, we must pull together in the spirit of the shared vision that created the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC).
Member States have demonstrated the resolve to remove all of the impediments which have for far too long retarded the growth of the regional agricultural sector and that process, as indicated earlier, has taken already taken off.
There is a role for all to play. This is our Region. Our participation and support matter. It is crucial that we spread the word, and encourage each and every one to support regionally produced agricultural commodities; plant your own backyard gardens; invest in the agricultural value chain. We all have to champion the vision of regional food and nutrition security.
The theme of this Forum and Expo “Transforming Agriculture through Innovation and Investment” is most appropriate. Embracing technology and innovation will be critical to overcoming the challenges which we are facing. The way that we grow, reap, manufacture, work and engage in our productive processes must change. They must be driven by technology through innovation. This is vital for the Region’s agriculture sector and food systems and, of course, for the economy and society as a whole.
I want to take this opportunity to emphasize to our young people that there are excellent opportunities in this new agriculture. Smart agriculture goes beyond planting and growing systems that incorporate new technologies. There is a growing demand for online platforms, extension apps, agricultural marketing apps, drone operators, data analytics and crop forecast apps, to name just a few. This is the time and the opportunity to say to our young people, get involved. The opportunities in the agricultural sector are there to be taken up and there are gaps which you can bring your new thinking to create further opportunities for yourselves.
I want to put on record our appreciation and support to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for the efforts which are on display here. It sends a clear message that every single CARICOM Member State has made food and nutrition security a priority.
I want to wish us all a successful Forum and Expo, which will augur well for CARICOM, our Caribbean farmers, agri-processors and our people.
I thank you.