GEORGETOWN, Guyana: President Bharrat Jagdeo is urging the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to be more supportive of a plan by Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries that would further develop the agricultural sector in the region.
“We have a regional plan which we are pursuing and we are receiving support but sometimes the relatively higher GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of our region, compared to some developing countries, masks a lot of the poverty and under nutrition in our societies,” Jagdeo said at the FAO-organized World Summit on Food Security, which ended yesterday.
He said the high GDP masks the vulnerability of the Caribbean to natural disasters and the debilitating high level of debt servicing.
“So when the FAO talks about graduating us out of some access, we want to ask that these countries remain with a model that is sustainable,” Jagdeo said.
Jagdeo, who has lead responsibility for agriculture in the CARICOM quasi Cabinet, was critical of regional countries that he said were not paying attention to regional food security. As a result, the Caribbean has moved from a position where it could feed itself to incurring a US$4 billion food import bill.
“For us in the developing world, we can’t just complain. Many of us don’t even allocate money for agriculture, for drainage and irrigation and farm-to-market roads. We don’t even request loans from the multilateral agencies, so we can’t just ask for help; we also have to make agriculture a priority,” Jagdeo said.
The World Summit on Food Security focused on the reform of the current global food distribution system, which has demonstrated its weaknesses during the global recession. The FAO says 31 economically poor countries are net importers of food, but lack money for imports and are also affected by famine.
According to the FAO’s annual report on food security, the number of people suffering from chronic malnutrition worldwide has topped one billion. East African countries, where 20 million people are currently in the need of emergency food aid, are the worst affected.
During the summit, Jagdeo urged countries to re-think their approach to agriculture and called on developed countries to honour their obligations to provide assistance to Third World countries, warning that there was a need for developing countries to act.
“We cannot rely on the benevolence of the developed world to keep their promises on ODA (overseas development assistance) or reverse the decline on ODA to agriculture, or pursue trade policies that would not impoverish us further, or to remove the debilitating subsidies. These are not going to happen just by themselves.”
Jagdeo said it was also important for citizens worldwide to act in order to get their leaders to implement policies that would lead to the continued development of the agricultural sector.
“How do we create the atmosphere in these countries that would be supportive of the leaders from the developed world who genuinely want to contribute to the solution and how do we take away the excuse from those who have not been willing to live up to their commitment and I think the only way we can do this is through a campaign,” he said.