25 x 2025 Initiative in Focus – Food for Lunch Dialogue Series Begins Friday
As regional countries continue to work towards achieving food security, CARICOM will launch a series of webinar conversations at 12:30pm on Friday, 21 April 2023, to engage the wider community on the 25 by 2025 initiative.
The initiative aims to reduce the Region’s US$5B food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025 and is being piloted by President of Guyana, His Excellency Mohamed Irfaan Ali, lead head of government with responsibility for agriculture in the CARICOM Quasi Cabinet.
Just recently, at a food security discussion on the sidelines of the Spring Meetings of the World Bank, the President pointed to the urgency of the Caribbean region becoming food secure and highlighted the measures that need to be implemented to achieve the targets. He identified transportation and financing among the critical areas that must be addressed to ensure the strategy is successful.
A Special Ministerial Taskforce on Food Production and Food Security (MTF) chaired by Guyana has identified the following priorities as the main areas of focus in the achievement of Vision 25 by 2025:
· Removal of all NTBs to Regional Trade in Agricultural Produce
· De-risking of the Sector- Insurance and Alternate Financing
· Digital Agriculture
· Research and Development
· Review of the Common External Tariff (CET)
The MTF working with the stakeholders have identified the following commodities for special investment in the region:
· Table Eggs
· Meat (Goat, Beef and Pork)
· Roots and Tubers
· Niche Vegetables
· Fruits and Vegetables
First Food for Lunch Conversation
Representatives from the private sector are on the first panel of the series of the conversations that begin on Friday. They are David Fernandes, Assistant Managing Director, Bounty Farms Limited; Stephen Crell, Managing Director, Republic Bank Limited; Ralph Birkhoff, Co-Founder and Chief Commercial Officer, Alquimi Renewables LLC and Teesha Mangra-Singh, Chief Executive Officer, One Guyana Agriculture Inc. CARICOM Assistant Secretary-General, Economic Integration, Innovation and Development, Mr. Joseph Cox will moderate the conversation. They will discuss regional economic opportunities within the 25 by 2025 initiative.
The lunch conversations are just one of the avenues being used to augment awareness of food insecurity in the Region and the 25×25 initiative. Policymakers, the private sector and international development partners are among those underscoring the importance of the initiative and galvanising action at various levels.
Last week, at a symposium hosted by the CARICOM Secretariat and the University of the West Indies’ Institute of International Relations to mark CARICOM’s 50th anniversary, CARICOM Secretary-General, Dr. Carla Barnett, drew attention to the agri-food systems strategy.
In her wide-ranging discourse on 14 April, she said the goal of the strategy is to increase productivity, spur regional trade and investment in the agricultural sector, encourage the involvement of women and youth, while adopting smart agriculture technologies to increase sustainable production in response to risks associated with climate change.
Trade and transportation
“These measures have already begun with an increase in the production of key products and the implementation of relevant policies, including for food safety and health,” she noted.
The Secretary-General also touched on the matter of reliable transportation.
“This is the piece of the integration puzzle that has eluded us for many years, but without which the 25 by 2025 ideal becomes extremely difficult to achieve.
“It has been long understood that one of the fundamental drivers of integration is efficient low-cost transportation of both people and goods. This will require substantial investment and our Community has been working on several fronts to achieve that goal, whether through public-private partnerships or international cooperation mechanisms,” she said.
Transportation was also one of the key areas that St. Vincent and the Grenadines Finance Minister, the Hon. Camillo Gonsalves addressed when he spoke at a forum on 11 April on the sidelines of the Spring Meetings of the World Bank.
The hybrid Caribbean Leaders’ Open Dialogue was organised by the Caribbean Association of World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund Staff (CAWI), and was anchored in Washington DC. It focused on ‘Increasing Food Insecurity in the Caribbean Region – A Growing Concern’. President Ali was among the virtual participants.
Minister Gonsalves placed emphasis on improvement in the Region’s trade and transport networks and the dismantling of barriers to trade as some of the solutions to the food security challenge.
He said the Region was importing inflation as its lines of trade travel from the Caribbean to North America.
“We import from Miami, we import from the United Kingdom, we import from Canada, and our food basket – what we eat – is heavily imported. There are Caribbean people in the room here, and you think about the foods that we eat. You say: ‘oh boy I can’t wait to go home to eat some rice and peas’. Well, the rice is imported and so are the peas. ‘I can’t wait to go home to eat some saltfish.’ Well, the saltfish is imported from Canada. ‘I cant wait to have some dumpling or some festival, or something like that’. The flour is imported. So our diets, at their core, are imported products and highly susceptible to vagaries in the market elsewhere,” he said.
He pointed to Guyana and Brazil as alternative means of food supply.
Re-orienting trade networks
“We have to re-orient our trade networks in that direction. But how do we do that when we don’t even have intra-regional travel? If I just wanted to get food from Brazil, I don’t know how to get it in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I don’t know by which route that food moves. If somebody in Jamaica wants to get food from Guyana, they don’t know how to get it. But they know how to get it from Miami,” he pointed out.
“Looking elsewhere, re-orienting trade or trade relationships or trade routes … is one of the medium to long-term solutions to the food security problem,” he said.
Assistant Secretary-General Cox said at the forum that the 25 x 25 initiative establishes the road map as to “where we have to go and we are convinced that the goals are achievable”.
He pointed to the broad suite of activities required to build resilience in the sector including enhancing the policy development framework, sanitary and phytosanitary measures; trade in animals and animal products; improving food quality standards; insurance; and derisking of the sector.
The private sector is providing the technical background to the initiative, according Dr. Patrick Antoine of the CARICOM Private Sector Organisation (CPSO).
President Ali, who lauded the work of the Ministerial Task Force, pointed out that there is “tremendous alignment” in agriculture and food production.
“The private sector understands and they are a part of this transformation, and that is what is exciting,” the President said.
The private sector representatives at the first lunch conversation will provide more insight into their role in the transformation of the region’s agriculture sector.
Please register for the conversations here