Guyana and T&T's food security partnership
NOW, finally, Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana have agreed to a partnership arrangement 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, regionally, the drive for food security in the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom).
This bit of good news for farming communities, commercial sectors as well as consumers with a passion for Caribbean commodities, came last Monday from Trinidad & Tobago's new finance minister, Larry Howai, while presenting the 2013 national budget — his first ever.
For starters, it is useful to recall that back in 1974 — a year after hosting the inauguration of Caricom at Chaguaramas — then prime minister Dr Eric Williams, in sharing his ideas for practical approaches to deepen economic integration, had offered his perspectives on the establishment of a Caribbean Food Facility (CFC) as a project for regional production and marketing of what we generally eat and drink, with involvement of the public and private sectors.
With lack of creative imagination and sustained cooperation the CFC project was to suffer the fate of other good ideas that subsequently surfaced in Caricom. It is, of course, better to move forward rather than harp on past failures.
Hence, the hope that the governments in Guyana and T&T would move with passionate determination to make a reality of the now officially disclosed initiative for a 'Food Security Facility'.
Before full membership access in 1999 by Haiti, with its estimated eight million population, concerns were frequently expressed by governments, from Jamaica in the northern sub-region to Guyana on the South American mainland, about the annual outflows from the Caricom group of hundreds of millions in foreign exchange to pay for food imports.
Annual US$4b drain
Today, with Haiti currently preparing to host for the first time in July next year, an annual CARICOM Summit, governments of the 37-year-old regional economic integration movement of over 16 million (at least half Haitians), are continuing with lamentaions over the annual expenditures of approximately US $4 billion to pay for food imports (excluding Haiti's).
Worse, as noted by the Community's Secretary General, Erwin LaRocque, when addressing a "Caribbean Week of Agriculture" event a year ago this month, "processed products" account for almost half of the imported food bill.
In his presentation of T&T's 2013 budget, finance minister Howai, who has a stout private sector profile, 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 as a key feature of the Food Security Facility.
It would be based on structured commercial relationships with the establishment of the Food Security Facility as a core feature.
The 'Jagdeo Initiative'
Guyana's reputation as a huge country with much agricultural land and water resources has often been identified as a major partner for such an integrated regional project to arrest the current annual outflow of billions of dollars in foreign exchange to pay for food imports.
That assessment had resulted in a Community Heads of Government agreement to launch in 2005 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 forward identified initiatives for agricultural transformation.
In delivering the feature address at a regional agricultural conference in Guyana, Jagdeo said that if Caricom leaders had a sense of urgency when "we launched the initiative" then, "it is even greater today; because the world is going through the worst recession since the 1930s that is causing problems and trends in the Caribbean as well that we cannot ignore."
If the governments in Port-of-Spain and Georgetown should rewind to Dr Williams' concept and commitment to the short-lived Caribbean Food Corporation they may be better armed to avoid the problems experienced in the launching of the coming Food Security Facility.
Indeed, in some respects there have been some quite positive developments to accompany the earlier launched "Jagdeo Initiative" for the expansion and transformation of the region's vital agriculture sector.
Perhaps most relevant would be the ''Regional Policy for Food and Nutrition Security" as evolved in 2010 and now said to be receiving "focused attention" by the Caricom Secretariat and relevant standing ministerial councils, including COTED (Council for Trade and Economic Development).