Caribbean Universities Partner With CARICOM to Reduce Regional Food Import Bill

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad - Caribbean universities from Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, with faculties responsible for agriculture and or food, have agreed to partner with CARICOM to support reductions in the region’s food import bill by 25 percent by 2025.

ARLINcheDr Arlington ChesneyThe Anton de Kom University of Suriname is due to join the initiative.

CARICOM leaders have made the reduction in the food import bill, estimated at billions of US dollars, a major priority and the initiative is being led by Guyana’s President Dr Irfaan Ali, who has lead responsibility for Agriculture in the quasi CARICOM cabinet.

During a virtual meeting hosted by the Faculty of Food and Agriculture of the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI)  the universities noted that regional annual food imports amounted to US $4.3 billion, for the period 2018-2020, excluding Haiti.

They noted that despite the fact that the Ministerial Task Force at its recent meeting had reported that the region had “met 57 percent of the 25 percent targeted reduction in food imports”, significant efforts remain.

They noted further that, with their collective human capital and sources of innovation and hubs for technological and knowledge development, a very powerful contribution can be expected.

The universities have invited the CARICOM Private Sector Organisation (CPSO) that was  represented at the virtual meeting by Ruel Edwards, Senior Technical Expert, to explain the details of the “25 by 2025 Initiative” particularly identifying the prioritized commodity groups and progress to date.

“Accordingly, seven commodity groups were described: cereals and staples; meat products; edible vegetables, fruits and nuts; milk and cream; beverages; fish products and crustaceans; and honey as also the initiation of the detailed preparation of business investment cases for the 19 commodities within the groups to support potential investment opportunities approximating US$1.17 billion.”

Deans, Dr Lawrence Lewis, Professor Marlon Knight and Professor Mark Wuddivira representing the Universities of Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and UWI, respectively, described the overwhelming research, innovation and teaching products being conducted by each of their institutions and recognized the immense benefits to be obtained for themselves, CPSO and the region from their closer collaboration.

Former regional director of Operations, Caribbean for Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the former executive director of the Caribbean Agricultural Development Institute (CARDI), Dr Arlington Chesney, who served as the lead discussant, said the meetings will continue regularly to facilitate their meaningful contribution to the achievement of the 25×2025 Initiative and the Universities of Bahamas and Belize will be invited by UWI to join the group.

In addition, the group intends to share a listing of their projects, especially in the areas of protected agriculture, corn, roots and tubers and dairy: commodities in which at least two universities are conducting research and /or developmental activities and which are amongst the 19 identified in the 25×2025 Initiative

They will also share a listing of their staff and their individual skill set to enable the development of technical working subgroups and work to develop a proactive public relations program.

Chesney said also the universities intend to prioritize the commodities for which business investment cases would be prepared to develop bankable and/or developmental projects for implementation by agencies, including the universities.

He said a specific example being the protected agriculture project approved by regional leaders and to determine the resources necessary to develop the selected business investment cases within an agreed schedule.

They have also agreed to initiate discussions leading to completion of a “working” memorandum of understanding (MOU) by June this year.