New oil producer, Guyana, is placing much emphasis on having a diversified economy and has put agriculture on the front burner as it seeks to boost food security for the Caribbean region.
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has set out an ambitious target of slashing its food import bill by 25% by 2025, and this was the underlying theme as several CARICOM heads joined Guyana for the opening of its Agri-Investment Forum and Exposition at the National Cultural Centre on Thursday.
And according to the Barbadian Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, there needs to be a “mindset change” to help the region achieve that goal.
“We have a responsibility to take pre-emptive action in this region to protect our people,” Mottley urged.
The threat of food insecurity has plagued the Caribbean region for years but has been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the war raging in Ukraine.
Guyana has already expended billions on imported food and goods and according to Guyana President Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali, this includes fish and fish products. But in his view, those very items can be grown and manufactured in Guyana’s backyard.
In its Low Carbon Development Strategy 2030, the government has committed to using revenues from its rapidly growing oil and gas sector to boost agriculture and other traditional sectors, setting targets for itself to introduce the production of wheat, promote production of corn and soya bean, as well as high-value crops like broccoli, kale and others.
Guyana is also pushing agro-processing and has its eyes set on the establishment of a fertiliser plant using natural gas from the upcoming Wales Gas-to-Energy project.
“So, this Agri-Investment Forum must send a strong message that we must correct the imbalance we have and we must be prepared to achieve the target.
“As the region, we cannot continue the importation of billions of dollars in products when we can produce them right here,” President Ali underscored.
Though those ambitious plans are in place, the President also stressed the need for removal of trade barriers between CARICOM countries.
This is a major topic of contention for Guyana’s private sector. Just recently the business community through the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) urged President Ali not to sign any agreements with Guyana’s CARICOM neighbour, Trinidad and Tobago, before trade barriers imposed by the twin-island nation are removed.