Import substitution is being examined in an effort to massively cut costs on the region’s food import bill. Information suggests that the bill stands at some US$4.5 billion according to Ignatius Jean, representative of Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture in Jamaica. But Jean said that there are efforts “on the ground” aimed at reducing the food import bill across the region. The Island of Jamaica is an example. Jamaica has recognised that Agriculture can be its ATM towards generating economic growth and reducing debt. The country has begun to examine how it can substitute some of its imports.
“What they have done is assess their situation as to ascertain the foods they have been importing and to match that against what can be produced in the country… what they have done, there is a thrust now towards developing about 9 or 12 agro parks, what the government is doing is to put in the infrastructure like roads, irrigation, drainage and technical support services and they would lease the lands to some of the private sector interests to grow crops that will match the imports.”
Jean explained private sector companies are looking to cut the import bill of grains used to manufacture animal feed, already cassava is being considered as a main ingredient in feed for livestock as well as sorghum. One company, Caribbean Broilers is looking at producing sorghum with an initial has put in 100 acres with plans of cultivating another 700 acres.
But are countries willing to spend extra to grow more locally?
“You have to position yourself if you have a worse case scenario and boats cannot come to the Caribbean what do you do, it’s one thing to look at import substitution but we will not be able to substitute some products, there are some products we will never be able to produce, but there are some things we can do.”
As the Caribbean Week of Agriculture continues the region’s ability to network to make the best of food produced locally, the challenges of transportation in the region and other challenges being faced are all issues being discussed..