As the region explores ways to ensure its food security during the global coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, Guyana’s Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, who is also the chairman of the National Coronavirus Task Force (NCTF), said Guyana has the advantage of boosting food production in the region.
In a video press conference last week Thursday, the prime minister said that Guyana has long been called the food basket of the Caribbean, just as the way Trinidad and Tobago has been thought to the region’s industrial basin.
“Guyana has always been considered the food basket of the Caribbean from the point of view of having vast natural resources of fertile land, fertile soil, clean air, clean water and vast land space,” Nagamootoo commented.
While land space in other Caribbean territories may be limited to engage in agricultural activities, Guyana, on the other hand, is the largest Caribbean country in terms of landmass.
In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) holds Guyana as a food-secure country with no major food-security issues.
Only weeks ago CARICOM Chairman and Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley said that the notion of a “single domestic space” for CARICOM with regard to travel, food security, health, among other things, has now become more important.
She said that with globalisation expected to return to the world with the passage of the pandemic, countries will have to rely on their neighbours for support and there is no better time for the region to work together than now.
At the Ninth Special Emergency Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM on April 15, food security was high on the agenda.
Nagamootoo said President David Granger has consulted with the Rural Affairs Secretariat to determine how to boost local agriculture.
He further pointed out that as many factories are now closed and the usual imports of most countries have been affected, the international situation is very bleak. What’s more, countries are holding on to their own supplies or are faced with export restrictions.
Citing reports from US media, he said that 25 per cent of US pork production has been hit by the coronavirus and scores of food-processing workers have died after contracting the virus.
According to 2018 data from the International Trade Centre (ITC) the 15 CARICOM member states collectively source up to 94 per cent of their food imports from the US market.
In addition, data from the same year showed that 94 per cent of all CARICOM imports of cereals, 90 per cent of edible fruits and nut imports, and 91 per cent of sugar confectionery imports originate from the US.
Within such a context, self-sufficiency of CARICOM and Guyana, individually, is even more important, Nagamootoo argued.
“Guyana is in a very good position to have local stimulation of agriculture and we’re hoping that the Ministry of Agriculture will come up with a comprehensive plan on how to help households in Guyana and how to help farmers to take to the soil and to help to boost our local supplies,” he said.
“Trinidad has always been seen as the industrial basin of the Caribbean and we have been seen as the agricultural basin of the Caribbean; and we’ll continue to maintain that relation and to develop our economies so that we can help each other to provide with the need internally in our region,” the Guyanese prime minister continued.
CARICOM has stated that all proposals and arising issues will be considered in the context of the CARICOM COVID-19 Agri-Food Risk Management Framework, which was circulated to member states, following a meeting of Ministers of Agriculture last month.