Premier Joseph E. Farrell said Thursday, he is confident of President, Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali’s agriculture drive, which will help achieve the region’s agriculture goals.
He was delivering remarks during the opening ceremony of the Agri-Investment Forum and Expo at the National Cultural Center on Thursday.
The three-day event, which is being attended by several regional heads and delegations is being held under the theme, “Investing in Vision: 25 by 2025.”
“When discussions began on reducing food import bill by 25% by 2025, I was skeptical, as a Caribbean man. I have heard it time and time again and we have failed, but I’m convinced, having seen the energy, enthusiasm with which your president embarked on this mission, I am convinced that it can come to fruition,” he said.
The Premier noted that after gaining independence or republic status, few Caribbean states invested in agriculture, but focused more on sectors such as education, manufacturing and technology.
“Indeed, we have been taught as a nation, as a people, that anything that is foreign is good, and so we enjoy importing food from other places out of the region. We spend our limited resources that we could use for healthcare systems and other social safety nets, to import food, rather than developing our own sectors,” he said.
He told leaders to consider what happened during the Covid-19 pandemic when Caribbean nations could not access Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), from external suppliers.
“What if something happens and the region is not able to produce food? Our people will die, and that is why we must all rally around this vision and put it into practice so that at least we begin to produce food for the nations of the region. It is absolutely critical that we do that.”
He noted his country, Montserrat, imports 75 per cent of its poultry products and 85 per cent of its food from outside the region. This, he said is “embarrassing.”
The Premier also noted the issue of connectivity in the region and challenged people to invest in shipping. “Why should I be importing onions from North America, when my colleagues from the region have lands, enough to produce it?”
He noted that the biggest factor is not that food is not available in some countries in the region, but getting food where it is most needed.
“For over 25 years the region has been speaking to movement of food from one country to the other, and to this day we have not succeeded, so then we now need investment in shipping, so that we can move those products from Guyana in the South, to Jamaica in the north, from Dominica in the south to Montserrat and Antigua. This is what we need at this point in time,” he stated.
“Let us put our money where our mouth is and invest in shipping,” he added.
The Premier also noted the importance of food and nutrition security, as there is a high number of non-communicable diseases in the region. He said food produced must be high valued, and not necessarily for use outside of the region.
“There is no need for all of us to produce everything. We must begin to specialise. If Belize is producing oranges, I don’t need to produce oranges, we need to specialise and seriously produce and get those produce out of our countries and to the countries who need them most,” he added.
Meanwhile, Farrell also urged the youths to take up the challenge of finding a solution to irrigation water challenges in the region to maximise the use of water.
“The Government of Montserrat is supportive in working with Caricom, to achieve vision 25 by 2025,” he told the gathering.