Raising our game: Hosting the 2024 FAO Regional Conference
The announcement last week that Guyana will host the 38th FAO Regional Conference in 2024 is probably unsurprising, given, firstly, the country’s longstanding pre-eminent position in the region as a food-producing nation. and, second, the growing attention we are now attracting, internationally, through our newfound oil and gas wealth.
The privilege of hosting high level international conferences is usually, to a large extent, an indication of the esteem in which a country is held by the rest of the international community. It is assumed, of course, that by 2024, Guyana will put in place the various infrastructural and logistical buildings to justify its selection to host a gathering of such caliber.
It should be clarified, of course, that the announcement that Guyana will host the FAO forum, comes at a time when the region is “again accelerating its engines” on whether to improve its food security profile and, in this regard and unsurprisingly, Guyana would have been designated as the regional leader in the pursuit of the development and implementation of a food security plan.
It goes without saying that Guyana has long been considered the regional leader in the agricultural sector, this distinction stemming from the fact that the country has the most abundant subsistence agricultural sector in the region and that there was never any question that we let’s be able to produce enough food to feed ourselves, not to mention the fact that there are some parts of this vast country where communities still do not consistently benefit from a condition that can be properly defined as food security.
Leadership in the agricultural sector and to help ensure food security in the Caribbean requires more than just “helping” other countries in the region that are going through difficult times in the event of hurricanes, for example. By now, frankly, we (meaning Guyana) should have hitched the sails of our own agricultural sector to the tallest mast of the wider region’s food security needs, not just in terms of of food exports to the region, but also in terms of being able to work with these countries to help them increase their own levels of national food production to a point where they too could come to a condition closer to food security . This is part of what this journal understands about the Caribbean community.
The pursuit of regional food security should begin with a continued reduction in our food imports. There is hardly a head of government in the region who has not, at one time or another, spoken words to this effect. Unfortunately, there is no convincing evidence that we have always pursued this goal, so these days the region is grappling with a (reported) US$5 billion food import bill which, given the multiplicity of our wider economic problems, is unquestionably long-lasting. . Frankly, it is to our collective shame that there has been, over the years, no known determined effort by the collective Caribbean community to reduce food imports and to simultaneously replace some of them by undertaking a serious region-wide effort to increase levels of local food culture. To put it bluntly, over the years the region has approached the issue of food security mainly from the perspective of what inevitably always turns out to be more or less empty rhetoric.
Our intra-regional cooperation efforts to shape a food security regime based on a system allowing each country to contribute, within its means, to such an objective, have never really gone beyond the stage of articulating grandiose ideas. We can, for example, reflect with regret on the failed attempts of Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago to set the regional food security “show” in motion. These efforts have crumbled and burned against the backdrop of the inability to effectively track decisions made on paper as well as repeated feuds between Georgetown and Port of Spain resulting from wrangling over market access, particularly regarding the access of Guyanese products to Trinidad markets. This is just one example of what has been the patterns of fractured disagreements between Caribbean countries on the issue of market access that have a particular way of exaggerating into wider rows that are both useless and extremely counter-productive.
The results ? Over a period of more than two decades, the “noise” that emanated from the Caribbean concerning the advisability of a regional plan for food security was only a continuum of “false starts” and that, it must be said. , was also due to the failure of Guyana, as the designated leader of the food security ‘pack’, to provide effective leadership to a regional food security ‘plan’. If this is not the first time that this newspaper insists on this point, the repetitiveness testifies to a concern to underline.
The available evidence clearly suggests that we in the region – and Guyana has been a major culprit in this respect – are inclined to equate rhetoric with real progress. In this particular case, we were unable to recognize that endless meetings between country representatives, including heads of government, to talk about regional food security never really came to fruition. In other words, we came out of the regional food security talks that followed, just what we put in there… nothing.
While it is generally the Heads of Government in the Caribbean who are expected to drive the regional food security initiative, it is the respective Ministers/Ministries of Agriculture who are expected to drive these initiatives and implement the decisions made at the level of the Caribbean. heads of government. In the case of Guyana – and as this newspaper has previously reported – our own Ministry of Agriculture has long seemed to lack the capacity to serve as an operational secretariat for the effective conceptualization and execution of a regional security plan. achievable food. One of the most recent examples of his incompetence/indifference in this regard (and this is not the first time we have highlighted this) has been his inability (even taking into account COVID-19) to carry out the commitments that he took on the events associated with the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables (IYFG) last year. This failure alone raises serious question marks about Guyana’s ability, at present, to effectively drive a regional plan for sustainable food security. Interestingly, the failure of the Ministry of Agriculture in this regard (and it should be noted that some of the IYFG undertakings should have been reduced to nothing more than proverbial walks in the park) does not have a only time, as far as we know, raised serious breakdowns at the political level within the ministry.
That (who knows?) might change considering that Guyana, in the future, will likely have better resources to make a more meaningful fist of this mission. We will have to wait and see.
The fact that Guyana has been chosen by the other member countries to host the 38th session of the Regional Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for Latin America and the Caribbean is perhaps -be the best opportunity for the country to demonstrate that it can give leadership to a food security plan for the region which, for several years, has not materialized. Arguably, the country is perhaps better placed than it has been before to provide real leadership in this regard. The ball, this time around, is entirely in our court and we are expected to up our game considerably in that regard.