CARICOM agriculture ministers seeking to allay fears amidst COVID-19

By Guyana Chronicle

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(GUYANA CHRONICLE) – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) agriculture ministers have warned that while there are adequate supplies of food in the region now, Caribbean countries should galvanise local production to meet future demands.

A CARICOM Secretariat statement said that this is one of the recommendations contained in a framework document that the ministers have accepted in principle to deal with the availability and accessibility of food in CARICOM in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

It said that the ministers and other stakeholders met in a special session of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) last week via video conference to consider the impact the pandemic was likely to have on food and nutrition security in the region. “Availability of food is in focus against the background of the region’s food import dependence to the tune of almost four billion US dollars and disruptions in international trade as countries take unprecedented steps – such as the closure of borders and port – to safeguard their populace,” the Secretariat noted.

The meeting was chaired by Belize Food and Agriculture Minister, Godwin Hulse, who said a food security response was fundamental given the uncertainty of the pandemic. CARICOM Assistant Secretary-General, Trade and Economic Integration, Joseph Cox, said that as the global community continued to grapple with the impact of the virus, recognition had to be given to the fact that the Community’s approach had to be more nuanced.

He said the impact was likely to affect the Community “in different phases as we go and so we have to be very measured in our responses” and that there were “tremendous opportunities” for food production, while warning that logistical challenges had to be taken into consideration as well. The Programme Manager, Agricultural and Agro-Industrial Development at the CARICOM Secretariat, Shaun Baugh, acknowledged that the situation was a fluid one since there was no firm indication of its outcome, hence the decision to meet and to prepare for any eventuality.

Baugh, speaking after the meeting, said the regional response framework document envisions member states drawing up national food security plans, engaging the private sector to ensure their supply chains are in place and interacting with farmer and producer organisations to see how best to boost local production of food in the event that the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Institutional coordination and an effective communications strategy were also among the pillars of the document and Baugh said that some member states already had national plans in place to boost local production. “We’ve given some basic guidelines but we’ve asked Member States to look at their own realities to see how they will implement. It will involve farmers; it will involve input suppliers; it will involve the general private sector distribution channels,’ Baugh added.

Representatives of the shipping industry, who participated in the meeting assured that from a containerised point of view, shipping was available and measures were in place in ports to ensure a steady supply of food.

Baugh said that the meeting took into consideration border and other restrictions and a plan of action was being put in place for exports. “The Ministers of Agriculture, and by extension the Ministries of Agriculture are engaged. They see the importance of ensuring that we have the plans in place to deal with the outcomes of COVID-19.” He said that the agencies and international partners were mobilized to provide technical support and rapid assessment response programmes and that the wheels were in motion and the deliverables coming out of the meeting should lead to a united response to ensure that the Region had adequate supplies to meet the nutritional requirements of the populace.

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