CARICOM’s food security false starts

There has been no marked change in recent years in the lead position of CARICOM member states in defining and, more importantly, the effective and rapid implementation of a program to bring the region closer to a state of food security. One might add that this is not for lack of bringing a bewildering array of food security-related proposals to the table, at the CARICOM Chiefs Meetings and other CARICOM forums, debating “to the death”. , producing volumes of “studies” that articulate roadmaps for their implementation and then make them disappear like straw in the wind, often never heard of again. Until now, CARICOM was guilty of failing miserably on food security.

The problem does not go away. Today, we are constantly reminded of the weight of our multibillion dollar (US) food import bill. Not only has it become the subject of popular discourse across the region, but it also serves as a poignant reminder of a deeply disturbing loophole that can ultimately lead to our being forgotten as a region. More than that, the immediacy of the food security crisis in the region becomes more apparent in the face of current and looming climate change considerations to which we are seriously vulnerable as well as the current challenges of Covid-19 whose impact has been more immediate. .

Food security is one of those issues that here in the Caribbean has long been buried within a seemingly indestructible limit of what we loosely describe as a “blunder”. It exists because there are media to disseminate what, too often, are meaningless “messages”. It allows media statements from regional chiefs and their various officials that morph into cheeky statements that are subsequently sent to “specialists” to be turned into tomes of meticulously documented recommendations for implementation.

At these times when we face yet another round of regional ‘noises’ about food security, we present figures that call attention to what is considered to be the monetary value of the food that the region primarily imports from. North America, about $ 5 billion. annually being the most recent estimate. This kind of disclosure is usually enough to spark a new round of regional food security gossip that, once again, is getting nowhere. We can go back several decades and it is unlikely that we will find any idea related to food security emanating from the Community that has caused anything that far resembles a significant change in the state of food security in Europe. the region.

One would have thought that the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic coupled with recent alarming revelations on climate change, taken together, could have changed the region’s approach to its food security gaps. This continues to not be the case. Instead, successive governments across the region, especially here in Guyana, continue to bombard us with food security commitments that come and go with monotonous regularity.

It is no secret that there is an understanding in the Caribbean that it is Guyana, first, that should be looked at to lead the way in developing a workable security oriented agenda. regional food. The reality is that we have not been able to do this, one of the reasons for our failure being that any coherent regional food security initiative should be preceded by sidelining the various intraregional squalls. that periodically erupt on market access. The available evidence suggests that this is not as easy as it sounds.

A serious concern that arises from this conundrum is the fact that there is no solid mechanism to accelerate the rate at which decisions made at the level of the heads of CARICOM and other institutions within the community are unfolding. As with other regional issues, the pace of progress in advancing the issue of food security depends in large part on the pace at which respective governments evolve.

A little over a year ago, the United Nations designated 2021 the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables and, in the process, opened up the possibility not only for individual Caribbean territories to launch their own IYFG initiatives, but also for the region to work together not only to maximize the nutritional benefits to be derived from a greater infusion of fruits and vegetables into our regional diets, but also to accelerate the agri-food processing industries of the Caribbean to develop the region’s agricultural sector. , to increase employment in the sector and to pave the way for an increase in the agro-food sector in the region. -products processed for extra-regional markets. This newspaper has no recollection of a CARICOM member country that decided to take serious advantage of the IYFG as a means of consolidating its individual credentials as agro-producers. In the specific case of Guyana, it took the Ministry of Agriculture more than three months after the start of the IYFG to announce a national program. In addition, it is difficult to determine the extent to which the department’s commitments to its announced program have ever been implemented and to what extent.

The fact that the Caribbean Community has failed, as a collective, to leave a significant mark on the UN-appointed IYFG, testifies to its indifference to the regional air of food security that it has to offer. ‘she keeps trumpeting.

On the larger issue of food security as a whole, it is not just a matter of pointing another finger at some of the failures of the Community to operate in a way that meets the needs of the peoples of the Caribbean just for the fun of it. to do. Above all, it is a question, not for the first time, of asking whether the national concern, at the level of each Member State, for its own survival, does not count more than any collective will to succeed.

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