Significant progress made with driving regional agri-food systems agenda all while battling global pandemic

– CARICOM MTF pushes for large-scale corn and soya bean production, agriculture insurance

During the thirty-second Inter-sessional Meeting held last February, the Conference of Heads of Government approved the establishment of a Special Ministerial Taskforce (MTF), subsequently charging it with guiding the CARICOM’s position on shaping a significantly more resilient, wealth-generating, and food secure agri-food system.

The MTF, which is Chaired by Agriculture Minister, Zulfikar Mustapha, has been working closely with regional private sector organizations to guarantee integration and meaningful collaborations when developing its Action Plan and to follow up on and monitor the implementation of a regional agri-food system strategy.

Minister Mustapha examines one of the young soya bean plants

Since its establishment, the MTF has convened five meetings and has made significant inroads in several major areas of its work programme.

Minister Mustapha, while providing an update on the MTF’s achievements since its establishment in 2021, noted that the Taskforce was able to engage and collaborate with the Caribbean Private Sector Organization to advance the regional corn and soya programme.  

“The MTF has and continues to play a leading role along with the Caribbean Private Sector Organization in the identification and development of a programme of support for the regional corn and soya priority commodity programme. The Caribbean Development Bank has since expressed interest in supporting the production of corn and soya beans used as intermediate inputs for feed production as possible commodities for input displacement. Initial discussions are currently ongoing with the CDB on the nature of the proposed support. This project, as you know, has positive implications for Guyana positioning itself as the supplier of inputs for the poultry industry. This will result, in one stroke, to help to alleviate the concern of food and nutrition security because Guyana will be able to provide its protein for poultry, which is widely consumed across the region. Further, it will also reduce the food import bill because, annually, we spend an enormous amount of money to import corn and soya beans for the poultry industry. There are also implications for things like cross-border investments,” Minister Mustapha said.

With the annual imports for proteins for the poultry sector being close to $25 million, the government sought to incentivize the cultivation of corn and soya beans in 2021.

In 2021, $500 million infrastructural investment to rehabilitate 18km of the road starting from the junction of the Linden- Ituni road and heading east towards the Berbice River. Additional investment will be done for, drying facilities and storage silos.

This year, the massive corn and soya bean trial farm at the Dubulay Ranch at Ebini along the Berbice River has shown remarkable results.

The trial project saw the successful cultivation of 111 acres of soya bean, and 5 acres of corn being cultivated, which yielded approximately 2.3 tons per hectare.

The initial aim is to cultivate 56,000 acres or 22,400 hectares to be able to satisfy the local demand, after which, cultivation for export to markets in the region will be targeted.

Agriculture Insurance

With Guyana and other CARICOM member states’ agriculture sectors being susceptible to the impacts of climate change, the MTF has been playing a leading role in advocating for the development of appropriate products aimed at de-risking the agriculture sector such as agriculture insurance.

“The MTF has played a leading role in advocating for the development of appropriate products aimed at the de-Risking of the Agricultural Sector. To this end, the MTF has received a presentation from a regional Insurance Company that has expressed its willingness to proceed with exploring the development of an agricultural insurance product for CARICOM Member states. The Company is in the process of preparing country-specific proposals for consideration by Guyana and the other Member States. The second quarter of 2022 is being targeted for the delivery outline for the proposed insurance product for CARICOM Member States. Guyana is now at the forefront of the effects of climate change. Now more than ever, we see the need to have some sort of risk transfer mechanism in place whereby when our farmers are faced with these perils, they can receive some compensation thus minimizing or eliminating, altogether, the need for governments to take monies from the coffers to give relief because farmers would be paying a premium. That in itself would be a game-changer for Guyana’s agriculture sector,” the minister added.

Alex Mendez explaining the process of cultivating the corn.

As it relates to advances with implementing a dispute resolution mechanism which includes policies regarding the removal of trade barriers for CARICOM States, Minister Mustapha said that the MTF has made significant progress in this regard and that it will be further discussed during the upcoming COTED meeting which is scheduled for some time this year.

Resuscitation of Transportation Commission

An enduring constraint to intra-regional agricultural trade is the existence of an Inadequate Regional Transportation system. While Guyana has the productive capacity to produce a significant amount of the food that is imported into the region, moving its produce to ports across the region in an efficient manner at a competitive cost, remains a significant constraint.

Recognizing this constraint to regional trade, regional officials noted in particular that there was a need to address transportation and logistics considerations in the context of efforts to advance the CARICOM Agri-Food Systems Agenda. The decision was therefore taken to give priority attention to proposals to incentivize private sector partnership in addressing transport and logistics requirements for implementation of the agri-food systems agenda.

To this end, the regional focus has been on the resuscitation of the Regional Transportation Commission (RTRC) targeting both air and maritime transportation.

At the level of the MTF, significant progress has been made to have this commission resuscitated with heavy policy emphasis being placed essentially on the delivery of adequate, fair, competitive, efficient transportation services at affordable costs and the sustainability of these services.

Additionally, the commission will also focus on creating an interconnected, multi-modal, accessible transportation network that actively contributes to the strengthening of the economic development of the Community through trade and the movement of people, as well as, strengthening and enhancing the regulatory organizations and institutions of the transportation sector of the Community.