Letters & Opinion

CARICOM’s Land of Food, Water and Wheat Beckoning Neighbors to Share the Region’s Breadbasket

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

CARICOM member-states are responding slowly to Guyana’s open and urgent invitation to work together to overcome the various difficulties that have traditionally stifled regional cooperation and common growth possibilities.

Long before the Ukraine War sent fuel and food prices rocketing sky-high last month, President Irfaan Ali invited regional states to cooperate in Agriculture towards achieving regional Food Security, starting with the achievable 25% reduction in CARICOM’s humongous multi-billion-US-Dollar Food Import Bill.

Barbados responded first, Prime Minister Mia Mottley signing-up last February for mutual cooperation in tourism training, as well as for trade in agriculture and livestock, including shipment of 1,000 Blackbelly sheep from Bridgetown to Georgetown.

Guyana also has an Oil & Gas agreement with neighboring Surinam, with prospects for expanding energy cooperation to the rest of CARICOM.

Trinidad & Tobago, CARICOM’s only Oil & Gas exporter before now, is also seeing increasing private sector-led interest in Guyana.

But Grenada, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Dominica, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis have been comparably slow in taking-up Guyana’s invitation to work together, at all practical levels, to take bilateral and multilateral cooperation to higher heights.

Same with The Bahamas, Belize and Haiti, which have historically remained distant in developing practical trade and multilateral cooperation with CARICOM.

Guyana has always had what it takes to feed the entire Caribbean several-time-over: endless land and water – and now the means to build the infrastructure necessary to turn it into the El Dorado for Caribbean Food.

Likewise, the common colonial past of the other 12 former British colonies in CARICOM have always provided a readymade basis, after Independence, to work with Guyana to face and turn mutual challenges into grand regional opportunities.

Never mind Guyana’s abundance of land and water, gold and diamonds, bauxite and other natural resources, the unfortunate historical depreciation of the Guyana dollar to lowest rates-of-exchange simply exacerbated the lives of tens of thousands of Guyanese of all walks of life.

Restoration of Democracy in 1992 through the return of transparent elections saw the two major parties elected in-and-out of office by turns and terms, roughneck political confrontations of the past briefly returning at the turn of the century, leading to successive invited CARICOM interventions that eventually saved the nation from sliding back into an era nobody but political benefactors would have wanted.

In the post-Jagan era, the current Ali administration, buoyed by positive Oil & Gas revenues and backed by the achievements of the two previous Brarrat Jagdeo and that led by Donald Ramotar, started a new chapter in the continuing Guyana story as the Caribbean (and the world’s) fastest-growing economy, with the means – and the will – to extend cooperation and assistance to the rest of the region, in ways never dreamed of.

But the sloth of CARICOM responses in grasping Guyana’s extended hand is only for now, as the pace of mutual cooperation with Barbados will certainly be both a positive litmus test and eventual catalyst for the type of regional response really needed.

If anything was needed to drive home Guyana’s willingness and ability to work hand-in-hand with its regional partners, COVID and Ukraine helped force the necessary deeper regional cooperation in Health and to confront skyrocketing Food and Fuel prices.

Guyana’s Oil & Gas base will also lead to new approaches to eventual lowering of fuel and energy costs at home and across CARICOM.

The Ukraine effect on global food prices and increasing unavailability and higher costs of wheat products has also led to more possibilities for cooperation in Agriculture.

Guyana announced last week it will soon begin the first trial of 20 wheat varieties (possibly before the end of May) in a new effort at food diversification and cultivation.

Guyana is also examining the possibility of establishing nurseries at strategic locations to continue and expand testing for better growing results.

The possibilities here are endless, as, over the last 18 months, wheat prices have risen nearly 110%, corn and vegetable oil by 140% and soybean by 90%.

All these favorable developments, if taken early and proper advantage by regional partners, can and will lead more quickly to the desired objectives of not only reducing the region’s Food Import Bill, but also ensuring import substitution by growing more of what the region eats and eating more of what it grows.

Tourism and manufacturing remain the main economic lifelines for the rest of the CARICOM majority, but the region’s governments urgently need to respond more quickly to the urgent need for greater levels of cooperation in Agriculture and for Food Security.

President Ali’s repeated reminders of the need to go beyond words to more action and the recent US $100 million CARICOM agriculture fund ring loud enough in the ears of fellow leaders and regional agriculture ministers, but not until they respond will the situation start changing positively enough to make that necessary difference.

Fact is, Guyana has more than enough of almost everything the Caribbean can produce in sustainable Agriculture and production of quality Agro-industrial products.

Now, more than ever, the possibilities exist for Guyana and the rest of CARICOM to work better and harder together to turn old dreams into new realities.

The Caribbean’s veritable Land of Food and Water, backed by Oil & Gas, is now looking producing wheat varieties that will enable it to also address and help the region overcome another vitally-important Caribbean food commodity – and at better prices than what’ll be charged by the time the trials and eventual production starts.

Caribbean leaders and nations that continue to respond slowly to Guyana’s invitations to work together for the region’s common good are effectively slowing-down the pace when it needs purposeful acceleration.

In the meantime, Guyana must not be deterred by the sloth, but should purposefully continue building the bases for that eventual takeoff to the necessary next stage of all-round functional regional cooperation.

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