GEORGETOWN, Guyana – The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), recently facilitated a virtual meeting for agriculture ministers of the Caribbean Community. The purpose of the meeting was to establish a common sectoral strategy to address the crisis brought about by COVID-19.
In attendance were the agriculture ministers from Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Guyana. Each country was allowed to present on the conditions and needs of their respective country’s sector.
Minister Holder in his presentation, noted that while it is too early to arrive at an accurate assessment of the total impact of the crisis, the slowdown of the economy will affect all aspects of food security, that is, availability, accessibility, stability and consumption of food. The greatest impact to accessibility stemming from reduced incomes during this time.
“Guyana is a food secure country having met global targets in 1996 of the world food summit, and in 2000 of the UN millennium development goals.” Minister Holder further explained that Guyana produces approximately 60 percent of its food consumption, meaning the country’s food import dependence stands at 40 percent and consists largely of processed foods, oils and fats, grains (essentially wheat and corn) and milk and dairy products.
Minister Holder pointed out that Guyana’s food and agriculture sector may be affected through labour shortages caused by illness, quarantine, social distancing requirements, transport interruption, and similar food chain disruptions. While there is no accurate assessment of the impact of this disease as yet, scenarios include disruptions in food production which is dependent on the length of the pandemic and the impact of control measures on the operations of farmers.
While agriculture input supply services are operating at normal levels, they could be impacted by international trade restrictions. Producers are currently harvesting rice so that higher demands for inputs will not occur until May or June. Commodities and supplies for the poultry industry are currently stocked. Should we experience any disruptions, there are alternative local feed sources.
Baby chicks are usually imported from the USA twice per week. Should there be any disruptions to this, Jamaica has indicated that they will be able to supply the entire region. Minister Holder stressed that priority remains for diversification of production as food accessibility remains a challenge, especially among certain vulnerable populations across the country.
He observed that Guyana remains a food secure country and in the context of the current situation, international partners could assist in examining ways in which food could be moved across borders to other countries within the region.
IICA provided four commitments at the conclusion of the meeting viz
- Offering the opportunity to the Ministers for IICA to organise a meeting with financial institutions – IDB, World Bank, Caribbean Development Bank in the next ten days to explore the possibilities for strengthening Caribbean agriculture, promoting local foods, strengthening agro-processing and promoting a more resilient agriculture;
- Adjusting for the needs of the Caribbean through the digital application to support the development of the logistical arrangements for trade, and sharing with Caribbean member states;
- Identify ICT tools for extension innovation and adapt and disseminate to the Caribbean Member States and to support their work with farmers; and
- IICA also committed to organizing meetings of the Caribbean Region with Ministers of agriculture in Latin America.
Department of Public Information, Government of Guyana.