Dr Irfaan Ali, President of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, is leading a high-level delegation to the 33rd Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM, currently being held in Belize (March 1-2).
This biannual meeting brings together the leaders of CARICOM, to discuss major issues affecting the region, and to agree on appropriate policy actions.
Among the issues slated for discussion are:
Advancing the CARICOM Agri-food Systems Agenda;
COVID 19 and its impact on the region;
Advancement of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and necessary actions to support its implementation; and
Questions of security
In particular, President Ali, in the capacity of Lead Head on Agriculture, Agricultural Diversification and Food Security, presented today (March 1, 2022) an action-oriented and solution-based proposal, aiming at the 25% reduction of the food import bill by 2025 as was mandated by the CARICOM Heads of Government.
He outlined the significant contributions made over the one-year lifespan of the Special Ministerial Taskforce (MTF), with specifically developed investment projects in poultry, corn and soya, and mutton (black belly sheep).
In the area of de-risking the agriculture sector, the MTF received a proposal from the GraceKennedy Insurance Company Limited Jamaica and has started the first stage of implementation. They have also commenced exploring public-private partnership models for transportation and logistics.
The Head of State of Guyana made a detailed presentation on each country’s report of current and target commodities to achieve 25% reduction by 2025, outlining both constraints and actions needed. At the same time, he highlighted that coffee, cocoa, coconut, spices, hemp (industrial) and palm oil are high-value imported into CARICOM with potential for development in the region.
Production is expected to increase between 25% to 700% to be able to significantly reduce food imports by 2025. To achieve this, national expenditure on agriculture must be increased. On average CARICOM member states expended an estimated 2.1% of national expenditure on agriculture. However, President Ali implored that a significant increase is required of about 5% expenditure in agriculture by 2025 by each member state. Guyana is committed to expending 10% of the national budget to agriculture by 2025.
The Lead Head for Agriculture reported that there has been concrete progress in access to financing for agriculture investment, financing through a facility called the CARICOM Sustainability Agriculture Credit Facility (the “Credit Facility”), using Republic Bank Limited as a lender. This is a special facility designed for agriculture activities including, but not limited to, development of priority crops, capital equipment for farming, feeder roads to provide access to arable lands, bulk storage for crops, processing plants, shade house farming. This provides funding for up to five years for repaying up to G$2b to Guyana and US$100m to all CARICOM member states, with interest rates as low as 2.5%.
President Ali also highlighted the global developments and its implication in the agricultural implications in the region.