By Desilon Daniels
A month after floods ravaged St Vincent and the Grenadines and other Caribbean countries, leaving hunger and homeless in their wake, Minister of Agriculture Leslie Ramsammy is once again emphasizing the importance of achieving food security.
Besides Guyana, St Vincent is the only Caribbean country to have attained the Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger before the 2015 deadline. However, during the annual accountability seminar of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) held yesterday, Ramsammy pointed out that events such as the torrential floods which destroyed lives, crops, and infrastructure in St Vincent can easily stymie the food security goals set by nations.
Ramsammy, who has been a proponent of the importance of food security for more than a year now, stressed that the target must always be kept in mind. “We have to reaffirm and recommit to the common vision and the common goal,” he said.
Guyana hopes to eradicate hunger within the nation by 2025. According to Minister Ramsammy, more than 50 million people in the region—Latin America and the Caribbean—are living in food insecure situations, while if the Caribbean is taken alone the number is 8 million. Though Ramsammy admitted that there are individual challenges faced by countries, he stated that this is no justification for the millions of hungry people. “We have no excuse; we should see it as a shameful legacy that still 50 million people live in hunger in our region, a region that is a net exporter of food,” he said.
“The Caribbean can have all the food that we need, but until we are able to develop our systems, and until we are able to ensure equity it the socio-economic lives of our people, we will not eliminate the pockets of hunger that exist in our region.”
Ramsammy also used the opportunity to bring up the issue of nutrition security. Though Guyana and the Caribbean are food secure, it cannot be claimed that we are nutrition secure, Ramsammy said. According to the minister, the average daily calorie intake in the Caribbean is perhaps the highest in the world. Barbados’s, he said, is over 3,000. Guyana and other countries are at least 25% in excess of the recommended calorie intake from the World Health Organisation (WHO). Though calories are not unsafe, Ramsammy questioned how much of those calories are nutritionally valuable. He also raised a link between high calorie intake and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Fighting hunger in Guyana
Ramsammy revealed that the Ministry of Agriculture, along with the FAO and other industries, is working to transform the coconut industry in Guyana. Also, there are plans for the first large-scale dairy plant in the country to become operationalized later this year. These will not only create livelihood and generate wealth, he said, but will also eliminate hunger and poverty.
The ministry and the FAO are also partnering on the construction of two modern, large-scale factories as well as the installation of packaging plants. According to Ramsammy, these plants will use Guyana’s agriculture products to manufacture value-added products for sale on the local and international markets. “Soon you will be introduced to those products but it will require our farmers producing larger amounts of cassava, bananas, breadfruits, etc for international quality packaging. I’m looking forward to building these capacities in Guyana… I’m looking forward to Guyana being able to increase dramatically our export of world-class food products,” Ramsammy said.
Aside from the establishment of these facilities, Ramsammy said, the improving of genetic stock and technology can lead to marked improvements in the yield of stock. According to the minister, the rice industry has already demonstrated improvements from the cultivation of the genetic stock.
Local farmers, Ramsammy said, can benefit from the relationship between the ministry and the FAO by having their yield improved by 100%.
In July 2012, Guyana had the honour of hosting the sixth Hunger-Free Latin America and the Caribbean meeting. Ramsammy revealed that in the coming week, President Donald Ramotar will attend a meeting in Cuba with heads of the state of Central and South America and the Caribbean. This meeting will serve to reaffirm the goal of a hunger-free world, the eradication of hunger and poverty, and the consolidation of food and nutrition security in the region.