Food security must become a Regional imperative – President Ramotar
- Head of State urges CARICOM countries to forge ties, share experiences to combat hunger, poverty, malnutrition
“Food security must become a Regional imperative and there are more than 50 million of our people in Latin America and the Caribbean who go hungry. This is tragic because we have the capacity within Latin America and the Caribbean, to produce more food than it requires, to feed our people. We must ensure that we translate this potential in a manner that assures equity and equality and assures that none of our citizens go hungry in this Region by 2025.”
Guyana’s President, Donald Ramotar, made this assertion at the opening of the 6th Hunger-free Latin America and Caribbean Initiative yesterday, where he also emphatically stated that it is necessary for CARICOM countries to forge stronger ties in order to dedicate more resources towards feeding people in the Region.
It was noted that this will also allow the member states to safeguard themselves against ‘shocks’ such as economic and financial crises that are seriously affecting North America and Europe.
President Ramotar emphasized that this Region is one of the most “unequal” in the world and it is this inequality that spawns poverty, hunger and malnutrition.
“There are structures, most of which are the products of historical circumstances that constrain economic democracy. These structures exclude and marginalize millions…Unless we as a Region address structural constraints to economic democracy, the problems with poverty and inequality will continue to consign millions of our people to destitution and we would not be able to eradicate hunger in the Region.”
He underscored the need to internally craft structures of development that facilitate greater economic participation by people, without which, the countries would not be able to reduce the effects of poverty and inequality.
Representatives from the various CARICOM countries were urged to pursue trade arrangements that favour the movement of food commodities across their countries since the potential for greater trade and food commodities between the countries remain enormous.
“Guyana today exports food products today to Latin America and Caribbean countries where up to four years ago all of Guyana’s rice went to Europe, North America and CARICOM countries.
Today we export significant quantities of rice to Venezuela-this is an encouraging direction, I urge you to continue … as we combat obstacles especially the non-tariff barriers to the trade in agricultural produce so that we can import more of our resources towards feeding our people and in the process reducing our exposure to external shock in food prices,” President Ramotar posited.
The Guyanese Head of State acknowledged that all of the countries in the Region can and must learn from each other’s experiences so as to determine what “works” and what does not in striving towards eradicating hunger, poverty and malnutrition.
He assured that Guyana is prepared to share its own success stories in this area, just as much as it is receptive to learning how other countries have dealt with these issues.
It was also noted that Guyana has successfully been able to half the proportion of persons who suffered from hunger during last year.
He stated that as the years have gone by this country continues to make strong in roads in the reduction of poverty.
“Between 1993 and 2006 extreme poverty was reduced from 28.7 per cent to 18.6 per cent. This achievement must be seen against the background in the 1990s when Guyana was ranked as one of the two poorest countries in Latin America with one of the highest per capita debt per annum in the world and high rate of migration, we have made impressive strides in reducing poverty whilst having to restructure our foreign debt,” added the President.
According to Ramotar, Guyana aims at reducing extreme poverty significantly within the next three years, while placing greater sensitization on malnutrition and hunger as well as engaging these problems on a global level.
While highlighting successes such as the fight against HIV, and being on the verge of eliminating transmission from mother to child, it was also mentioned that Guyana has begun its school feeding programme that targets areas indentified in the country’s mandate, where there is a high need.
In this way, he said, the Government hopes to ensure that all children benefit from better nourishment thus facilitating better learning in schools.
Interventions such as supporting families with monetary vouchers to provide school clothing for children, laptops to poor families so that their children will not be disadvantaged from the learning process, and removal of taxes from most of the basic food items including the Value Added Tax (VAT), were also mentioned.
While acknowledging that agriculture remains an important pivot to the efforts at reducing poverty, the President explained that it is not only focused on feeding people, but also to establish Guyana as a valued producer of safe and quality food.
“In this regard the food imports bill for the Caribbean must be looked at again, our ability of agriculture is working to ensure that Guyana’s food import bill be reduced through global production. We must target the food import bill of the Caribbean, of CARICOM countries, to ensure that we reduce the region’s dependence of sourcing outside of the region to meet our needs.
Indeed, the region has the potential to play a leading role in the world to end poverty globally, the money that leaves our shores, more than three billion dollars every year, could be very important in correcting some of the macro-economic inequality that we still feel,” the President concluded.