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OUR CARIBBEAN: Cooperating for regional food security

Rickey Singh

OUR CARIBBEAN: Cooperating for regional food security

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Finally, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana have agreed to pursue arrangements for the creation of a Food Security Facility (FSF), with hopes of stimulating agricultural and livestock production, reducing dependence on foreign food imports, and stimulating the drive for the much talked about “food security”.
Talk is easy. And over the years, dating back to the 1970s – the decade in which our Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) was inaugurated – there has been plenty “talk” by regional governments and entrepreneurs about the need to check the annual foreign exchange drain and make use of vast natural resources located among the partner countries to produce much of the food and beverages we consume.
This past Monday, new Minister of Finance Larry Howai, who has a stout private sector profile, in presenting Trinidad and Tobago’s 2013 national budget, announced that with growing shortages in suitable land for agricultural diversification to meet current and future needs, the governments in Port-of-Spain and Georgetown had agreed to the expansion of agricultural production in Guyana. It would be  based on structured commercial relationships with the establishment of a FSF as a core feature.
Guyana, a huge country with much agricultural land and water resources, has often been identified as a major partner for an integrated regional project to arrest the outflow of at least US$4 billion (BDS$8 billion) annually as part of a CARICOM-wide food security programme.
That assessment had resulted in a Community Heads of Government agreement in 2005 to launch what came to be known as the “Jagdeo Initiative”, named after then President Bharrat Jagdeo. But by last month, the former Guyanese head of state was himself lamenting the disappointingly slow responses by member governments to push identified initiatives for agricultural transformation.
If the Guyanese leader and his current and former Heads of Government colleagues should rewind to 1976 they would be exposed to the thinking of the late prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Eric Williams, that led him to initiate arrangements for the inauguration of a Caribbean Food Corporation designed to produce and market the foods we consume and simultaneously check the dependence on imported commodities.
Subsequently, the late William Demas, former Secretary General of CARICOM, was to offer for the guidance of decision makers in the public and private sectors, his perspectives on economic zoning that would have some countries pursuing initiatives in agricultural development for food production, while others would be more focused on the tourism and services sectors.
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean ­journalist.