CARICOM food security workshop to ponder how to boost agri investment

Risk mitigation measures aimed at creating greater incentives for private investment in the agricultural sector, and the harmonization of health-related food standards in the region are among the key issues in the CARICOM Draft Regional Policy for Food and Nutrition Security (RPFNS) which will be mulled at a Validation Workshop in Georgetown from July 26th – 27th.

President Bharrat Jagdeo

The Workshop, which has been organized by the Caribbean Community Secretariat with the support of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) project Promoting CARICOM/CARIFORUM Food Security, funded by the Government of Italy will review the raft of measures contained in the draft policy document that outlines the nature and scope of policy actions proposed to be taken at national and regional levels in order to address the negative factors constraining the attainment of food and nutrition security.

Key to the success of the draft regional policy on food and nutrition is the creation of secure risk-management mechanisms for the agricultural sector which includes a Caribbean-wide agriculture/crop insurance scheme designed to compensate for losses incurred due to the impact of natural disasters and the creation of a regional disaster fund for the sector. Adequate protection against climate and pest-related threats to farming are key issues that have arisen here in Georgetown during intra-regional discussions on the promotion of large scale investment in the sector and next week’s Validation Workshop is likely to attract some measure of interest among potential investors and lending agencies.

Moves toward the creation of a regional policy for food and nutrition security have been accelerated by an increasing awareness of the high financial cost and health implications of a shift in nutritional patterns in the Caribbean. The draft CARICOM Policy for Food and Nutrition encompasses “the production (agriculture, fisheries and forestry), food processing and distribution, health, and nutrition, trade, infrastructure, social welfare and education sectors.” The policy also envisages a greater say by producers in the agricultural sector, including farmers, fishermen and agro-processors in a regional agriculture research agenda that employs a market-driven and value-chain approach. Accordingly, it seeks to mobilize regional research institutions and link them with relevant national institutions “to achieve synergies in resource mobilization for actions in support of national food and nutrition security.

Central to the regional food and nutrition policy is the creation of adequate incentives, including pricing, marketing, and food distribution and input supply policies that will encourage investment in the sector by both large and small investors and accelerate the production of food in the region. Additionally, the policy envisages the creation of a predictable fiscal, trade and regulatory policy environment for agricultural, livestock and other food production in the region and the creation of vertical and horizontal linkages between tourism, agro-food distribution services, agro-food manufacturing and the productive sector. The policy also calls for greater encouragement of value-added pursuits in the agriculture sector through the expansion of the range and quality of crops, livestock and fishery and other food by-products as well as improved meat cutting, processing and manufacturing techniques and upgrading packaging, certification and other support infrastructure for both the domestic and export markets.

CARICOM’s move to create a regional policy for food and nutrition security also focuses on designing a regional agricultural trade and import policy aimed at keeping dependence on imported foods “at the absolute minimum, a consideration that has moved to the forefront of regional debate on food imports in the wake of increasing public expenditure on food imports valued at more than US$3.5b annually. Simultaneously, the region’s agriculture sector has been plagued by rising input prices, uncompetitive   production costs of traditional and non-traditional export commodities and minimal impact of diversification efforts.

The outcomes of next week’s Valuation

Workshop could serve to heighten the level of investor interest in large scale  investment in the agriculture sector since it is also expected to pronounce on issues pertaining to improving the regional food distribution system including the removal of non-tariff barriers that hinder access to and distribution of food in the region; the facilitation of greater linkages between regional buyers and sellers and the development of strategies aimed at resolving intra-regional transportation issues with a view to reducing distribution costs and improving the movement of food commodities across the region. The policy document also advocates efforts by governments in the region to improve farm to market channels including access roads and post-harvesting grading and handling facilities and develop wholesale and retail market facilities and packaging centres to create efficient markets and lower market prices.

A briefing paper on next week’s Valuation Workshop issued by the CARICOM Secretariat identifies the “very high dependence on imported food” and the erosion and threatened loss of trade preferences” as being among the key factors affecting food security in the region. “To date, the sparse and diffuse punctual actions at national and regional levels have not resulted in sustainable food and nutrition security for many people in the Caribbean. According to the draft food and nutrition security document the regional policy will also focus on retraining and re-tooling farmers in appropriate production practices including conservation farming and zero tillage to adapt to the changing environment and improved land management systems to address shortages and excessive rainfall.

The advancement of regional progress towards the creation of a regional policy for food and nutrition security has been heavily influenced by a sustained call to CARICOM Heads of Government by President Bharrat Jagdeo to refocus on strengthening the regional agricultural sector in order to reduce dependence on imported foods, consolidate regional food security and position the region to take advantage of what is widely believed to be an impending global food crisis.