GEORGETOWN, Guyana, (DPI) – President, Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali has expressed the firm stance that the Caribbean market must be positioned as a high-value specialised one, leveraging its scale, strategic location, and competitive advantages.
Dr Ali highlighted several commodities including honey, spices, cocoa, coffee, corn, soya, and fresh fruits, which he said, hold significant value and can contribute to the region’s economic growth.
He was at the time addressing a virtual Regional Agri Forum, Tuesday, where he stressed the distinction between agriculture and the broader ecosystem of highly integrated food production.
“When we speak about investment, we’re not speaking about charity. We’re speaking about creating a business and economic model that works…for the investor, for the people, and work for the country, in the context of what you want to achieve. And that context is food security and to create a high-value market.”
To realise these goals, the president outlined several key areas that require attention. Transport and logistics, for instance, have long been a significant challenge for international trade and regional food distribution.
He said there are immense opportunities in transforming the transport and logistics aspect of the food production system, particularly through the creation of a regional food hub.
By reengineering the existing network and investing in the necessary technology and infrastructure, the Caribbean region can establish efficient transport routes, reducing delivery times from Northern Brazil through the Caribbean to North America to just 72 hours, instead of three weeks.
Further, the Guyanese leader stressed the importance of investing in technology, particularly to address post-harvest losses and increase value-added production.
“And let me say this, the integrated food production system is changing. You don’t need 100 acres of land to produce x tonnes of potato. With technology, you can now produce the same amount of potato that you produce on 100 acres of land, on less than five acres of land. Resilience and sustainability as part of the investment parameter in this integrated food production system are important,” Dr Ali added.
Meanwhile, another key priority in the region is to ensure greater participation of women and youth, which will open up numerous opportunities and benefits.
Right now, we have exposed ourselves because of the high food import bill. Seventy percent of our food is being imported into the region. We have exposed ourselves to the vulnerability of high inflation, the inflationary pressure, we have seen that and the impact it has on our economy, it setback our a social programme,” president Ali explained.
To this end, he said it is also crucial to address the volatility and price fluctuations in the global market.
Highly integrated food production system needed
“How do we use these opportunities to create value, expand the market and produce high-value crops? Because it must be targeted, high-value crops that we’re looking at, whether it’s the very strawberries that you’re importing, the grapes that you’re importing, whether it’s the spices, green leafy vegetables, broccoli or cauliflower.”
The president explained that historically there has been “a very narrow view of agriculture that limits it to people working in a field”. He said that agriculture has changed and the opportunity is available to invest, modernise and transform.
The president explained that one of the critical issues in creating the integrated system and high-value market is transport and logistics. This, he said, has been the “greatest bugbear of interregional trade”.
“So there are tremendous opportunities in the transport and logistics aspect of the food production system, beginning from primary production to highly specialised value-added production.”
To address this, the president suggested that agricultural opportunities available in northern Brazil be examined and that the food production system be re-engineered to utilise the potential of the Portuguese-speaking nation, which can be moved through Guyana and into the Caribbean and North America.
With this option, the president said, food would be able to get to the Caribbean and further up north through Guyana in less than 72 hours. This, he explained, is only possible if there are tangible investments in the transportation, logistics and food hub ecosystem that are part of an integrated system. The existing transport system for food moving from northern Brazil to North America takes almost three weeks.
“That is the first positioning I want to put to you, what constitutes the regional food hub, the infrastructure that must come in supporting that food hub, supporting the transport and logistics opportunity, the distribution opportunity, the value-added opportunity that will come.”
The president also spoke of the need for investments in technology and modernised agriculture, training and development, infrastructure, and sustainable and resilient systems.
“The integrated food production system is changing. With technology, you can now produce the same amount of potatoes that you normally produce on 100 acres of land, on less than five acres of land.”
Food production, the president explained, is integral to the growth and development of the region and critical to our financial development.
He said that the region’s food import bill stands at more than US$6B and all efforts must be made to reduce that amount.
“Recently, as a region and here in Guyana, we are investing heavily in technology and examining the viability for other crops, for example, wheat and barley. We have a lot of land that can have high production of barley that can satisfy the entire regional demand and go all the way up north and take a big share of that market.”
The president also pointed to the massive transformation of Guyana’s feed production, which started in 2021 with the planting of corn and soya.
“By the time we get up to 2025-2026, we will not only be nationally secured, but we will be in a position where we can produce all the corn and soya for feed production throughout the region.”
Other substantial changes were also highlighted, including larger investments in Guyana’s brackish water for aquaculture, movements towards more women and youths becoming involved in agriculture and plans in place to enhance production with advanced technology and through the use of cheaper electricity.
Guyana holds lead responsibility for agriculture, agricultural diversification and food security in the CARICOM quasi-cabinet.
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