The initiative aims to reduce the Region’s US$5B food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025 and is being piloted by President of Guyana, His Excellency Mohamed Irfaan Ali, lead head of government with responsibility for agriculture in the CARICOM Quasi Cabinet.
The first of the ‘Food for Lunch’ conversations on 21 April, featured representatives of the private sector who provided insight into their approaches to reducing the food import bill. They identified opportunities in the agriculture sector and shared strategies to take advantage of those prospects.
The first discussants were:
- David Fernandes, Assistant Managing Director, Bounty Farms Limited, a poultry and feed-producing company which is part of a conglomerate – Tacama Gold Inc., that is planting corn and soyabeans in Guyana;
- Stephen Grell, Managing Director, Republic Bank Limited which strongly supports the 25 by 2025 initiative;
- Ralph Birkhoff, Co-Founder and Chief Commercial Officer, Alquimi Renewables LLC which uses innovation, engineering and renewable energy in its food production operation in countries across the region;
- Teesha Mangra-Singh, Chief Executive Officer, One Guyana Agriculture Inc., which is aims to train and empower young people to become successful agriculture business owners who will contribute to increased domestic production and reduced importation
CARICOM Director, Sectoral Programmes, Ambassador David Prendergast moderated the hour-long discussion. He indicated that some of the key objectives of the initiative are the removal of non-tariff barriers to regional trade in agricultural products; de-risking of the agriculture sector; digital agriculture; research and development; and a review of the Common External Tarif (CET).
The lunch guests lauded the initiative as a timely one. They underscored the need for collaboration towards self-reliance and self-sufficiency in food, given the impacts of climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine.
Here are key takeaways from the initial ‘Food for Lunch’ conversation:
There are opportunities for youth in agriculture
The One Guyana Agriculture Inc, which Ms. Mangra-Singh heads, focuses on the opportunities that exist for young people in the agriculture sector. She said the entity established an Agriculture Innovation and Entrepreneurship Programme (AIEP) through which climate-resilient agriculture, and crops such as carrots, cauliflower and broccoli are being encouraged.
The AIEP provides space for experiencing agriculture in a practical way, she said, and the programme acts as an incubator where young people can have hands-on training throughout the production chain. The programme began with 50 participants from across the country on a rotation basis. The AIEP partners with other entities and participants are drawn from a variety of sources including schools and non-governmental organisations.
Mr. Birkhoff also highlighted the importance of involving youth in the sector.
Investing in the sector is critical
The panellists are confident that the opportunities for investment in agriculture in CARICOM are great. Mr. Grell indicated that Republic Bank is providing a spread of resources to allocate to entities ranging from small and medium sized enterprises to large conglomerates.
People are listening
The panel praised the efforts of the CARICOM Heads of Government and other stakeholders to ensure the success of the initiative. Mr. Birkhoff pointed out that through the current advocacy, people are finally listening.
The full discussion is available here.