We must buy regional, says PM Skerrit
Barbados and the rest of the region have been challenged to consume more of what they produce in order to reduce the Caribbean’s US$4.5 billion annual food import bill.
Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, who issued the challenge, said the people of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) must begin by demanding that only foods produced in the region are sold on supermarket shelves.
“I mean it’s a free market, one has to understand, and I think that it is left to the consumers to determine how we are going to address the issue of food security,” he told reporters covering the 36th Heads of Government summit.
“We are concerning ourselves with regards to the high food import bill from the region, but a large portion of this food, fruits and vegetables are coming from very far from our islands and these are things that we can produce [at] even higher quality if there is a deeper commitment on the part of consumers, not only governments but the consumers, those of us who go to the supermarket and the food stores to purchase items, that we demand those things from the region,” he added.
CARICOM leaders have repeatedly expressed concern about the food import bill and several initiatives have been mooted, including a Food Security Facility announced by Trinidad & Tobago in 2012, aimed at utilizing land available in Guyana to produce a range of food crops.
Skerrit admitted that people of the Caribbean were already consuming local products, but not in enough quantities.
He listed products such as bottled water and bananas, which he said were produced under better labour and environmental conditions.
However, he said phytosanitary conditions and inadequate packaging were among challenges that must be addressed in order to reduce the food bill.
“The choices we make is that we do not allow it to come out of the region and at the end of the day it is affecting our entire region because foreign exchange leaves us, jobs eventually will be leaving us and instead of keeping the resources that we have generated in our economies we [are] having them repatriated to foreign companies.”
In January 2008, at the swearing in of the new Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government, the then incoming Prime Minister David Thompson, now deceased, had announced that he was in talks with Skerrit for Dominica to provide Barbados with fresh fruits and agricultural produce as a means of lowering the cost of living.
There has been no movement since, and Skerrit today blamed the absence of reliable transportation.
“We are seeking to address tomorrow this issue of more reliable transportation because that’s an issue to the south of Dominica.
“Dominica supplies every country north of it with agricultural produce but the southern part we are seeking to address it with the purchase of a vessel . . . but it is something I believe that we can address among ourselves, but more broadly not only as a Barbados/Dominica bilateral issue. [It’s] a region-wide issue and I think if we are going to be serious about food security we have to look at what we are producing, what we have the potential to produce, what skills [we posess] and to see how far we can supply ourselves in the region,” he stated.