Dr Timothy Harris said, “Without a systematic plan to assist the sector in overcoming the ten (10) binding constraints identified in President Jagdeo’s Initiative, the agriculture sectors of the region save for Guyana, Belize and Suriname will neither be contributing enough to the regions food security nor to the foreign exchange required to meet the food import bill.”
The Minster who was at the time speaking at the official opening of the Capisterre Farm quoted statistics from the United Nations Comtrade Database revealing that CARICOM, excluding Haiti imported US $293 million worth of food and exported only US $145 million in 2008. The main food categories were fruits and vegetables, meat and meat preps, sugars and sugary preps including honey, cereals, fish, coffee, tea, cocoa, dairy products including bird eggs, beverages, and oil seeds.
According to Dr Harris, “since 2002 CARICOM Heads pledged to increase the resource flows to the agriculture sector annually but this has not been done”.
The support of institutions like the Sugar Industry Diversification Fund (SIDF) was required if the country was to overcome the financing and investment constraints facing the sector. “We need soft loans. We need repayments terms that are linked to the nature of crops and harvesting periods so that our farmers can repay over several harvesting seasons, rather than from day one. Without an understanding of the peculiarities of the sector, we cannot nurture it and we will talk the talk without meaningfully walking the walk,” he explained
The Agriculture Minister appealed to the SIDF to treat applications for agriculture with some measure of urgency. He called for the translating of commitments to the sector to real monies being applied to the sector. “It is in the application that we transform and reposition the sector” he said.