Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley. (FP)

Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley believes this region may now need to amend its target and generate at least 25 per cent of its food production by 2023.

Ms. Mottley expressed this view today while virtually addressing the Regional Food Systems Dialogue. She said the focus must be on how to put food on people’s table and ensure there was a stockpile of food, in light of the crises confronting the region.

The Prime Minister told her audience: “Our goal of 25 [per cent] by 2025 probably needs urgent modification.  I trust and pray that our region will accept that we need to expedite the process of producing as much food regionally as we can, and that we need to come together, accepting that the true breadbaskets of the region will be Guyana, Suriname and Belize. But that does not remove from the rest of us the obligation of producing as much food as we can.”

However, she noted that there were some difficulties that had to be confronted, and highlighted access to cheaper food from outside the region as the foremost issue.

“The question as to how we treat to the whole issue of food security, allowing us to anchor our domestic policies and our trade policies, becomes absolutely critical.  We cannot afford to only have the need to grow food when there is a crisis.  Our farmers need certainty to be able to produce food year round.

“It means that there will be some need for some level of protection because they simply cannot withstand the onslaught of cheaper prices from outside, where they have the benefit of scale. Unless we confront this frontally, we will put at risk our own national security and the well-being of our citizens. The bottom line is our farmers can only produce consistently, if they are given the platform and the environment within which to do so.”

Ms. Mottley shared that the process of revising the 2025 target could be started with the production of six and 12 weeks’ crops, and easy to rear livestock. But she suggested that the transport issue had to be dealt with, stressing that unless it was settled, cooperation in the region could not be maximised.

“It is against this background, as the lead Prime Minister for the CARICOM Single Market and Single Economy, that I continue to work tirelessly with all parties who are interested in helping us to provide the maritime and the air transport necessary to ensure that our farmers can have access to the largest possible markets…, while at the same time ensuring that our people can have access to as much regionally produced food as possible,” she noted.

The Prime Minister said too few people were schooled in the rudiments of good farming and agricultural practices, and stressed that the research agenda needed to be stronger. She added that the issue of access to water must be tackled to ensure farming was not hindered.

“My own Government has had to spend millions of dollars for the first time in years, on the…issue of water harvesting, to ensure that our farmers have access to water,” she pointed out.

The CARICOM Secretariat partnered with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Food Programme, and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, among others, to host today’s dialogue.

The regional forum is a precursor to the United Nations 2021 Food Systems Summit, to be held in September, as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

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