Each year, countries within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) spend approximately 5 billion USD just to import food for consumers across the Caribbean. Private investors are, however, being encouraged to capitalise on the expansive, arable lands in Guyana to meet the region’s food demand and thus, help reduce that substantial bill.
President Dr. Irfaan Ali says that the government is consolidating unused and underutilised lands in Guyana, with the aim of making arable lands available for large-scale agricultural investments.
With one of the larger landmasses in the community, Guyana is known for its agricultural prowess. Caribbean economies, generally, evolved from monocultural systems. As the states developed, most Caribbean countries, especially the islands, have become increasingly dependent on tourism.
Guyana has maintained a focus on agriculture. Sugar, rice, coconuts and fish are among the major agricultural products exported from Guyana. More recently, however, an increasing focus has been placed on the agricultural and agro-processing sectors, as part of efforts to stave off the infamous ‘Dutch Disease’ known to bedevil oil-producing states.
And, as CARICOM works towards reducing the food import bill by 25 percent by 2025, Guyana is giving preference to regional investors.
“Guyana being resource-rich and freshwater is desirous of leading in this area by making available appropriate lands as part of the process of promoting cross-border investment in agriculture,” President Ali said while providing the keynote address for the opening ceremony of the 2021 Caribbean Week of Agriculture.
Through this, it is expected foreign investors, specifically those from the Caribbean, can produce raw materials and value-added agricultural products can be grown and manufactured in Guyana.
The President also emphasised that the private sector bodies across the region must become an integral part of the efforts to develop and transform the region’s agriculture.
There are several reasons why investors across the Caribbean should capitalise on these emerging opportunities. CARICOM Assistant Secretary-General for Trade and Economic Integration Joseph Cox says that the import bill could expand to 6 billion USD, if immediate steps are not taken. Such immediate steps would enable the region to achieve that desired reduction of the import bill but only if current production is expanded and trade barriers are removed.
Specifically on the trade barriers that exist, it is important to note that CARICOM is a regional bloc that was created to foster stronger relations among members states. But, the bloc has been criticised for the challenges that remain vis-à-vis the free movement of goods and people and their services.
President Ali, however, said, “Within CARICOM, Guyana will aggressively press for the dismantling of barriers that restrain intra-regional agricultural trade.”
Beyond efforts to dismantle the intra-regional trade barriers and attack the costly food import bill, there is also the ever-present and largely uncontrolled threat of exogenous shocks that disproportionately impact the smaller, developing economies. These include natural disasters, like floods and hurricanes, some of which are being worsened by climate change.
And, this presents opportunities for investments in climate-responsive and resilient technologies. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), new and innovative technologies would be needed to address the increasing threats of water scarcity while helping to improve crop management, reduce yield gaps and costs, and improve harvesting and plant breeding.
Finally, with the traditional dependence on producing raw materials and exporting, there are also emerging opportunities for agro-processing and manufacturing. This also allows for the integration of new and innovative technologies but more importantly, facilitates the diversification of the Guyanese and regional economies.
With Guyana making lands available, Dr. Ali and numerous other stakeholders agree that the time is ripe for investors to explore the myriad of opportunities available to help advance the Caribbean’s food security agenda.