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Regional Cooperation As A Path To Food Security

Empowering oneself is certainly beneficial, particularly when doing so with larger goals in mind like preserving and maintaining Food Security but why not look further? By delving into the topic of Food Security, we’ve looked at innovation, convenience, cost effectiveness and simple ways by which to grow food locally whilst helping to improve the human condition and generally better the populace. However, we’ve nary touched on the bigger picture; in this case the regional one! It’s only logical all things considered. If various people all have the same underlying problem, collaboration is bound to yield salubrious results.

Overcoming The Odds

The challenge then becomes a matter of forging, maintaining and most importantly, defining such a partnership.  Who does what and who gains what? One would be wise to predict a degree of disagreement and even infighting on any matter of regional cooperation. After all, the West Indian Federation was dismantled amidst such squabbles where some felt their expense was too great whilst others disproportionately benefited from it.  Yet, at the same time what purpose would institutions like CARICOM and the CSME serve if not utilized for an objective as imperative as food security?

As mentioned before, in 2008 the Caribbean spent upwards of $5 billion USD on food imports with that figure inevitably having risen from then to now (though were it not for a general paucity of data and its lack of transparency, more current figures would likely be far more telling). However, according to a UN FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization)[1] report that number may reach as high as $10 billion USD by 2020 if current trends persist. Of interest is the unsurprising revelation that foreign imports presently constitute a large fraction of the Caribbean diet though on the plus side, figures from said report demonstrate that undernourishment has generally been reduced or prevented from increasing over the last 3 decades.

Regardless, we also see that agriculture has declined considerably across the region from 1990 to now. Granted much of this was sugar cane monoculture, a more amicable transition may have involved a gradual shift to crop variation. Nevertheless, in 2010 CARICOM nations collectively agreed to a ‘Regional Food and Nutrition Security Policy’[2] as a first step in addressing changing global trends. If anything, this charter serves as a foundation upon which to build more specific agreements as it’s primarily characterized by pledges and declarations of long term goals. These include creating a more welcoming framework for private enterprise to prosper in the area of agriculture as well as meeting international standards for nourishment and reinvigorating the small and medium scale farming culture.

Achieving Defined Goals

All good things however in terms of overall collaboration on a regional level, the proposals are quite vague. In remedying this, two additional pursuits can be enacted. These are bilateral and multilateral agreements between member states. As an example, Trinidad and Guyana have in the past, agreed to proposals which saw Trinidadian farmers and businesses be granted[3] farmland in Guyana. Guyana after all, is considerably larger than many of the island states combined yet hosts a generally modest population of less than one million souls. Such moves usually incurred the displeasure of local Trinidadian farms however, who felt neglected and sidelined by the state but a more focused approach might solve any such issues. Consider an overall initiative rooted in specialization wherein the larger, more abundant land space in Guyana could be used to grow much needed staple foods[4] such as rice and maize whereas local farmers could be tasked with providing an assortment of other, yet vital crops and produce ranging from ground provisions to vegetables used daily in local cuisine.

Such forays would undoubtedly require a great deal of civic contribution however and thus, the state must create a transparent environment where farmers and ordinary citizens can not only engage in discourse on the matter but actively contribute to ensure stability. Indeed, the state should not attempt to leverage the greatest degree of influence in the matter nor should it rigidly control cooperative endeavours both as a means of avoiding needless bureaucracy and ensuring small, medium and large scale private enterprise might better flourish freely. Its purpose here would revolve around setting the stage and maintaining a thriving environment. Once achieved multilaterial agreements across the region could potentially see farming as a business enterprise thrive across multiple territories.

Maintaining Balance

The key here is not to produce as much as possible but rather meet as many needs as possible. Ergo, the issues analyzed in our previous pieces won’t be neglected as well. Cheap, innovative and small to medium scale farming can be pursued locally so as to save money, provide employment and empower the individual whilst reducing our import bills. At the same time, intra-regional investment in one another’s agricultural sector should not be viewed as ‘importing’ in the same way as buying from international is. It can help both with the matter of large scale farming where greater amounts of crops are needed as well as assist in providing competitively priced goods where, in the past, sellers have argued that imported produce is at times cheaper.

Consider the existence of a hypothetical company with operations in more than one territory. It would be a source of employment, investment and commerce while providing goods between Caribbean states in a free trade environment. Thus, without taxes and tariffs, these farmed goods could be provided at a competitive and affordable price without the need for state subsidizing of farmed goods; a scheme which usually tends to yield more problems than results ranging from corruption to higher prices regardless of the original intent.

In short, there are many paths to achieving sustainable levels of food security for the Caribbean region despite its unique challenges. Yet the actual achievement itself has always remained elusive. Here’s to hoping decisive leadership or sheer need and desperation serves to set us in the right direction soon


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