May 18, 2022 News
By Zena Henry
Kaieteur News – The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) can no longer take comfort in being primary producers with a hefty food import bill of some US$6B. As such, the three-day Agri-Investment Forum Expo set to commence Thursday at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre will provide regional nations with the opportunity to significantly address matters of investment in the regional agriculture sector.
Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha told media operatives during a press briefing held at the conference centre on Monday that preparation of the venue is in its final stage with 550 registered delegates set to attend, of which almost 400 are from overseas.
The Minister explained that the Heads of Government of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, and Trinidad and Tobago will be in attendance, while the Deputy Prime Minister of the Bahamas and the Premier of Montserrat are also confirmed. Nine Ministers of Agriculture and six ministers within the sectors of tourism, trade and innovation, among others, will also be there.
Additionally, 100 exhibitors will have displays. Twenty-five will be from countries such as the USA, Jamaica, Ghana, Trinidad and Tobago to name a few. “Sixty-two local ago-processors will be represented.
They will showcase diverse quality agricultural products, supporting systems and the vast potential to reduce the regional food import bill and the realisation of the 25 by 2025 programme,” the Minister related.
In a rundown of what the three-day event will look like, it was noted that the opening will be held at the National Cultural Centre by President Irfaan Ali and other Heads of Government. Following this, the Agriculture Minister said, the expo will immediately open. On the first day, the expo will be open to the public from 14:00hrs. There will be a Donor roundtable where donor agencies such as the Caribbean Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Food Programme, inter alia, will have a chance to discuss opportunities with the various CARICOM states.
Day two will bring together potential investors and other stakeholders on new and emerging opportunities in CARICOM’s agriculture. There will be matching of bankable agricultural projects with available private and public financing and a Plenary on Advancing the Agri-Food System Agenda. Day three of the event will focus on Youths and Gender.
With a US$6 billion regional food import bill, Minister Mustapha insisted that increased investment in agriculture and food production is extremely vital for the region and in achieving the 25 percent food import reduction target by 2025. The event will promote informed dialogue and engagements among key stakeholders along the agri-food value chain of policymakers, development partners, foreign and local private investors, farmers, distributors.
The minister informed that “The three-day event …will provide an opportunity for potential investors to contribute to food and nutrition security, with a view to identifying specific areas in which investment is needed to overcome existing structural and operational challenges.”
The Agriculture Ministry and the CARICOM Secretariat have led in the capacity of co-chairing, planning, management and execution of the event. The Committee consisted of stakeholders from government, development partners and the private sector.
Assistant Secretary General on Economic, Integration, Innovation and Development at CARICOM, Joseph Cox stated in his remarks the urgency in which the region needs to grab the opportunities confronting it. He said opportunities exist in animal and animal products, primary production and food processing as “we are moving up the value chain.” He said it is no longer that the region should take comfort in saying that it is a primary producer of certain goods. “We have to now move up the value chain and get that additional value added in our economies.” The CARICOM official was optimistic that this inaugural forum and expo would receive support for its continuation.
The Expo and Forum is being held under the theme: “Investing in Vision 25 by 2025”. President Ali who is Lead Head of the Government responsible for Agricultural Diversification and Food Security within the regional Bloc had presented a detailed Action Plan for commercialising the agri-food sector and attaining the vision of reducing the food imports by 25 percent in 2025 at the 33 Inter-Sessional Conference of Heads of Government earlier this year.
CARICOM Heads of Government agreed that an Agri-investment forum would be an appropriate platform to tackle the issue of investment in the sector.
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