Already at a whopping US$4 billion, experts say the Region’s food import bill continues to skyrocket
Caribbean Week in Agriculture (CWA) 2018 host country Barbados has challenged the regional agriculture industry to reduce the annual US$4 billion food import bill by 25% over the next five years.
Addressing the event’s opening ceremony on Wednesday, Prime Minister Mia Mottley said the region is facing the realities of climate change and the time to act is now.
“The two most expensive commodities will be food and water. How does the Caribbean not realize that it is within our grasp to take control of our destiny?……..We have a US$4 billion import bill but we do not have people coming to work every day to integrate production marketing and research to ensure sustainability of food in our Region?,” she asked.
Officials of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) say there is significant scope for reducing the food import bill. Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean Dr. Julio Berdegue said this week that the success stories need to be replicated and expanded.
“For example, through a comprehensive programme formulated with regional development partners and implemented through key public-private sector partnerships at the national level, FAO has been able to stimulate new investments to revitalize the cassava industry in several Caribbean countries. The programme, supported by several projects including one recently funded by the Caribbean Development Bank, has provided support for a more sustainable cassava value chain development and expansion in nearly all countries of CARICOM. With initiatives such as this one, CARICOM countries can go a long way in reducing the food import bill, and, at the same time, revitalize agriculture,” he said.
The Head of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) Manuel Otero reminded partners and policymakers that while there is hope for reducing the food import bill, time is not on their side. He said it was time to address one of the biggest challenges facing the industry today; ensuring a sustainable agriculture sector that is resilient to climate change. Otero said it is for this reason that IICA has responded positively to a request by the Government of Dominica, to make that country a global centre for agricultural resilience among Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
“IICA along with FAO, the OECS Commission, CARICOM Institutions, including CARDI and CEDMA, as well as CARICOM Member States have agreed in principle to support this excellent opportunity not just for Dominica, but for CARICOM and indeed for all SIDs. The Institute is committed, beyond the technical resources that we commit to the Region, including, but not only to the Global resilience Centre in Dominica, to serve as a bridge, providing access to relevant hemispheric networks and platforms as well as to its technical resources in all five technical programmes approved in the Medium term Plan,” he said.
According to the FAO, food imports are expected to increase to US$8-10 billion by 2020, if current efforts are not successful in tackling the issue of food security.
The policymakers and agriculture partners at CWA 2018 say efforts to reduce mounting food import costs must include more investment in the food and agriculture sector, enhanced interregional trade and more robust public policy.