Trinidadians are eating tilapia imported from China that can be supplied by any one aquaculture operator in Guyana, Agriculture Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy said at a fisheries consultation on Monday, while emphasising that the Caribbean has both the capacity and infrastructure to meet its food needs and cut down the exorbitant food import bill.
Ramsammy was at the time speaking at the start of a four-day consultation on the Implementation and Mainstreaming of Regional Fisheries Policies into Small-Scale Fisheries Governance Arrangements, jointly convened by the Caribbean Network of Fisher-Folk Organisation, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation and the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), a Government Information Agency (GINA) report said.
“Its objective is to facilitate effective engagement of fisher-folk organisations with those persons who are involved in policy development and decision making affecting the fisheries sector,” GINA said. Special focus is also being placed on the Caricom Common Fisheries Policy, the Castries Declaration on IUU fishing and the strategy on Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management in small scale fisheries governance and management in the region.
“The broader goals of those interventions are to contribute to the development of a sustainable fishing industry, the achievement of a better quality of life for fisher-folk and fishing communities and to enhance the food and nutrition security of the people in the region,” GINA reported.
Dr Ramsammy said while the Caribbean can be considered a food secure region and Guyana a food secure country, he was embarrassed to know that this sub-region has the largest per capita food importation bill.
“I am embarrassed as a Caribbean person when we are being told that we are the sub-region with the largest per capita food importation bill. Seven of our countries in Caricom have a per capita food importation bill of over US$500 on an annual basis when the global average in developing countries is just US $66 per capita… it means that we are importing more than 10 times what an average citizen in developing countries do,” he said.
“That reality must be changed and the capacity exists to do so,” he noted, adding that “hundreds of Trinidadians are eating tilapia imported from China which can be supplied by any one aquaculture operator in Guyana.” Food security is not just about the amount of food eaten but “but the right type of food” and most of the food imported into the Caribbean can be produced and supplied in the region, he added.
The minister noted that the infrastructure exists and the operators are willing to meet those needs, but they have scaled down their operations because the market does not exist, and “that is because the Caribbean consumers are always looking outwards because of the sanitary standards.”
“We complain that the Economic Partnership Agreement with Europe creates an unequal playing field because their products can come here and meet all the SPFs and they say you can bring your products to our country too, but then they put up the non-tariff barriers that they call SPFs and we can’t reach them,” he stressed.
While other countries like Trinidad and Barbados have met those standards, Guyana is trying its best to do the same.
The minister said one of the key notes in the Jagdeo Initiative is that the Carib-bean must reach standardised sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards. “This is so much more important since the new health regulations in the United States and even Europe seek to restrict all food imports,” he added. Ramsammy also noted that the stigma on the fishing industry still prevails here.
Meanwhile, CTA Senior Programme Coordinator, Jose Fonseca said this consultation is the basis and starting point of cooperation arrangements the CTA has with CRFM to allow fisher-folk organisations to express their views, interests and demands on regional fisheries policies. He noted that while there have been advancements in having the voices of fisher-folk heard, and their influences exerted in the policy making agenda, at the regional and international levels, it is never sufficient.
“The current consultation is just a start – a start to a number of activities which will help the region, stakeholders and decision makers to design engagement tools to make sure the policies are implemented by those who lead those who need policies more than others,” he said.
Fonseca also said that the direct involvement of fisher-folk is a necessity. It is not only a moral requirement, but a technical, scientific and political requirement for the formation of contemporary and future policies.
“Fish and fish products are among the most highly internationally traded commodity in the world,” Milton Haughton, executive director at the CRFM Secretariat said.
Referring to the latest FAO report on the state of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, published last year, Haughton noted that more than 56 million metric tonnes (roughly 38 per cent) of global fish production, valued at just over $109 billion, was traded in 2010.
Further, the report said, in 2010 the total fish production from the domestic fleet in Caricom countries was reported to be 161,000 metric tonnes of which just under 150,000 tonnes came from marine fisheries and about 11,000 tonnes from aquaculture production. The total production in the region is valued at about US$ 700 million, excluding the value-added product from processing.
The region exported approximately 59,000 metric tonnes of fish and fish products in 2009, while at the same time importing 75,000 metric tonnes of fish, Haughton further noted.
Apart from the nutritional value of fish, over 180,000 people in the Caribbean gain meaningful and stable employment in the fisheries sector.