President Dr Irfaan Ali has called on Governments across the region to collaborate and devise appropriate, urgent measures to shield the most vulnerable from increasing food prices.
He said that the strategic actions implemented must ensure that food supply is strengthened and maintained in the coming years.
This call was made at a forum hosted by the Andean Development Corporation (CAF) Development Bank of Latin America on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), to highlight food security in Latin America and the Caribbean and to discuss challenges, strategies and urgent action.
President Ali said that “the vulnerabilities and uncertainties in the region’s food system must be fixed to make them more inclusive, and sustainable, ensuring that delivery targets the wellbeing of the people and feed our societies”.
He posited that national protection systems must be expanded, protecting the most vulnerable, maintaining food to supply markets, maintaining investment in food production and farming, and investing in green resilient and inclusive food systems.
As Lead Head for agriculture, agricultural diversification and food security in CARICOM, the Guyanese Head of State reminded the gathering of the challenges facing the world in relation to poverty and hunger and its devastating effects.
“Over the last five years alone in Latin America and in the Caribbean, we have an additional 13.2 million persons who are undernourished, most of whom are children and women. This has a direct impact on educational outcomes and health outcomes. The issue of food security is interrelated to educational output, we have to understand this.”
The President also highlighted that in 2030, it is estimated that “hunger will affect 67 million people in the region, a figure that does not take into account the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
In identifying additional concerning statistics, he explained that if this trend continues, it would be impossible to achieve the targets set out in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) goal two (zero hunger) by 2030.
“As of March 2022, food inflation across 20 countries in the English and Dutch-speaking Caribbean increased by 10.2%; food inflation alone increased by 10.2%. This can be linked to the insecurity problems we’re having in more and more countries, the population becoming more and more uneasy; more persons responding by taking to the streets.”
In Guyana, he noted, the Government has taken steps both locally and regionally to reduce food imports by 25% by 2025 through investments in technology, research and development, removal of trade barriers, institutional strengthening and expanding access to agricultural lands.
“As we move forward, we must be able to find innovative ways of bridging the gap. How are we going to bridge the financing gaps? How are we going to restructure loans to ensure that there is a mix of concessional financing and loans to help farmers to increase production, to help countries, to invest in drainage and irrigation systems, to invest in climate resilient agriculture, in Smart Agriculture? Who is going to provide the financing? What is the cost of that financing?”
The President presented several other questions as he outlined the areas that require collective attention and action.
“We have to look at this as a region and come up with regional policies and programmes that will address this issue holistically…This is how we are going to ensure sustainability.”
He also spoke about the importance of encouraging the next generation to embrace agriculture and to “see it as something exciting, innovative, challenging”.
Failure to do this, he lamented, would lead to the inability to create a sustainable framework for the production of food, sustainability, and resilience of the region’s agricultural sector.
President Ali and a Government delegation are in New York for the 77th UNGA.