With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continuing to wreak havoc on the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)’s agricultural food sector, there is a need for greater emphasis to be placed on building capacity towards self-sufficiency, says the bloc’s Secretary-General, Irwin LaRocque.
He made this comment during a Virtual Meeting of CARICOM Ministers of Agriculture, Financial Institutions, Donor Organisations and Donor Countries today.
The SG noted that measures to combat the pandemic are resulting in a large contraction in economic activity globally and the effect is disproportionately deeper in the Caribbean.
The necessary social distancing and stay-at-home orders have contributed to agricultural market disruption, particularly, regarding harvest and the sale of fresh produce, meat, fish and a range of other value-added agri-food products.
LaRocque said that due to job losses and reduced income, many consumers have had to reduce their expenditures and shift their consumption patterns to processed foods, much of which are imported.
He added that given the collapse of tourism, along with the shrinkage of the food service sector, there is an unwelcomed surplus of certain agricultural supplies (poultry, vegetables, fish) in several Member States.
“The pandemic undoubtedly has brought about an unprecedented shock to the Region’s agri-food system. Circumstances now dictate a greater emphasis on building capacity towards greater self-sufficiency in the agri-food sector. This reality is even more urgent, given the onset of the annual hurricane season which is forecasted to bring several severe storms to the Region,” LaRocque stated.
He noted, however, that the crisis has provided the region with an opportunity to build resilience and enhance its food security. He urged Member States to take actions that would ensure that food supplies are produced to sustain the Region, along with the necessary capacity to distribute such supplies.
LaRocque noted, too, that the Region must now place maximum emphasis on restoring and facilitating intra-regional trade in agri-food products. To do so, a system for actively linking buyers to sellers needs to be put in place, along with removing technical barriers to intra-regional trade.
He noted that another major constraint impeding the growth of trade in the sector is transportation. He referred to a study conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which found that CARICOM intra-regional trade can double if the bloc addresses issues relating to transportation, trade facilitation and Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) measures.