Hastening the Georgetown/ Port-of-Spain food security initiative

After the visit here in November by Trinidad and Tobago Food Production Minister Devant Maraj an announcement had been made to the effect that the governments of the two Caricom countries would sign a Memorandum of Understanding within a matter of days of the visit that would address the details of a collaborative food production initiative involving the two countries.

Public disclosure on the visit had first been made during the twin-island republic’s October budget presentation by the country’s Finance Minister and it is fair to say that it caught Guyanese off guard. What we were told by Trinidad and Tobago’s Finance Minister Larry Howai was that the arrangement would facilitate access to land in Guyana for investment in food production. Minister Maraj was also quoted in a section of the local media as saying that the agreement was part of an initiative launched in 2005 by the then president, Bharrat Jagdeo.

Assuming that the Guyana/Trinidad and Tobago initiative is in fact part of the so-called Jagdeo Initiative it is pertinent to wonder aloud as to why it took more than seven years for the first announcement to be made regarding any plan to kick start an intra-regional food security initiative.

It will be recalled that during the period between 2005 and the present time countless meetings and discourses on the issue of regional food security had been held at levels ranging from regional agriculture ministers and experts to heads of government themselves. At the end of that season of meetings there appeared to be no appetite for pressing ahead with the commitments given, despite the fact that the heads of government had acknowledged that the region could no longer afford a food import bill that had reached at least US$3 billion. It seemed that rather than press ahead with the collective approach to realising food security, which had been agreed at a Caricom level, the respective member states simply turned inwards and began pursuing modest projects of their own.

By the admission of the Trinidad and Tobago government, the rekindling of its interest in an arrangement with Guyana which, presumably, would realise investments by the oil-rich republic on agriculture, utilising lands in Guyana, has been triggered by a renewed sense of urgency about the need to reduce its spending on extra-regional food imports.

And yet, since the visit here by Minister Maraj and the announcement that a post-visit MOU is to be signed, we have heard nothing from the authorities here as to what the MOU is expected to realise. Will the projects, for example, allow for local private sector investment? Have we been able to overcome the hurdle of crop insurance? Can our own local small and medium-sized farmers benefit from the development of these mega farms? Perhaps, most importantly, are the requisite mechanisms – including the identification of the lands for the mega farms – been put in place.

If these may seem like mundane questions, it should be noted that progress towards regional food security, the commitments by Caricom governments notwithstanding, has been painfully slow. In fact, for all the deliberations that have taken place over the years we can point to no concrete measures that have been taken in the direction of a collective effort to increase our reliance on food produced in the region.

It would be ill-advised – to say the least to simply sit back and wait for Georgetown and Port of Spain to produce the promised MOU in their own sweet time given what we know about the track record of regional governments on the issue of food security. A month and more has elapsed since Minister Maraj visited Guyana and there should already have been some measure of serious follow-up to his visit. There is, it seems, no end to our dilatory disposition.


The Small Business Bureau…going forward

The materialization of a report that allows some insights into the performance of the much vaunted Small Business Bureau in terms of its role in kick-starting a transformation in the small business sector finally allows us the opportunity to evaluate what it has accomplished so far, what some of its failings are and what sorts of adjustments/corrective measures it might take.

Implementing 20% of state contracts to small businesses

It is widely believed that if smoothly implemented and scrupulously monitored the actualization of the provision in the Small Business Act of 2004 for a 20% allocation of government’s “goods and services” contracts to small businesses could make a major, positive difference to the country.

City Hall’s helplessness in another potentially emerging crisis

The breathing space afforded City Hall in the wake of central government’s intervention to liquidate the City’s indebtedness to Cevons Waste Management and Puran Brothers and to foot the bill for services up to the end of December last year, is over.

Strengthening Guyana/Brazil economic relations

It would be entirely fair to say that successive political administrations in Guyana have, over time, continually squandered what, unquestionably, have been glaring opportunities to take advantage of the fact that Brazil, by far this continent’s largest country with the biggest economy, shares a border with us.

Influence peddlers ‘touting’ for would-be investors

During an extended discourse with the Stabroek Business on Wednesday, Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin went to some trouble to make the point that the APNU+AFC administration was particularly keen to provide a convivial environment within which to attract investor attention and (in the presence of Go-Invest Chief Executive Officer, Owen Verwey) made the point that one of his Ministry’s priorities was to properly position and equip Go-Invest to provide the various services associated with investor inquiries.

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