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Solidarity will help region get through this together

Top priority: fresh food security is high on the agenda for Caricom states

“Solidarity”“Unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.” — Oxford DictionaryWhat does that mean during a pandemic?Well, for 20 Atlantic/Caribbean leaders, it meant sitting down in front of electronic devices and having an emergency Caricom meeting to discuss the following items relating to Covid-19:• Country-by-country experiences• Regional experiences• Regional resources• Advice from regional bodiesOn April 15, approximately 100 persons logged on to a Zoom meeting hosted by the Caricom secretariat. This included, all 14 prime ministers of independent Caribbean nations and six premiers of British Overseas Territories.One by one, each leader spoke, briefly, of the challenges they were facing with balancing both health risks and containing economic fallouts of economies that, with varying degrees, are shut down or nearly shut down.Fortunately for the region, there have been relatively low amounts of community spread and loss of life.However, the economies, based mostly around tourism and respective support services, have taken a severe hit in each country.Regional bodies“The leaders received presentations from the Caribbean Public Health Agency, The University of the West Indies, the Caribbean Development Bank and Archbishop Jason Gordon.“Dr Joy St John, executive director of Carpha, indicated that the region had done fairly well in its response to the pandemic, which was a direct result of the early implementation of measures which helped to contain the virus. She recommended a co-ordinated approach as the region prepares for the next phase of the virus.“The CDB presented the economic implications for the community of the pandemic and ideas for stimulating economic activity in going forward.“The UWI researchers included projections for the future of the virus in the region.”— Caricom.comKey decisionsThree definitive decisions were taken in the meeting that stood out to all listening.The first was that all member states, both large and small, would continue to act in unison throughout the pandemic. Whatever knowledge and resources available to any given state would be shared among all states.We have seen clear evidence of this in the sharing of testing kits by the Caymanian Government to sister islands Bermuda and Barbados.The second unanimous decision was that the region must move towards improving digital economy and government administration. As we have witnessed around the world, government ministries have had to move quickly to have their staff working from home to prevent a total collapse of administration.So, too, in the Caribbean, thousands of civil servants have had to adapt to doing the people’s work from the safety of their living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms.For some ministries, such as finance, this would have been near seamless, as most of their work is administrative. For others, though, such as vehicle registration departments who rely on dealing with clients face to face on a daily basis, this has proved to be a challenge.In order for governments, and the region on a whole, to be able to function throughout a pandemic and/or natural disasters, they will have to have digital capabilities.Therefore, each member state committed to not only boosting their individual infrastructure but to assist others.AgricultureWithout a doubt, the most important decision made was to boost regional food security. Over the years, the Caribbean as a whole has allowed itself to have less and less domestic food production.Here are some key takeaways from a great piece written in Forbes by Daphne Ewing-Chow: “Most Caribbean countries are Net Food Importing Developing Countries — that is, imports are the dominant source of food energy.”“Lack of local production means that Caribbean people tend to eat more highly processed foods.”“Lack of local production is bad for local economies.”The Caricom leaders undertook a commitment to increase regional food production in countries with vast space: Belize, Dominica, Guyana, Haiti. For this to work, there had to be further commitment for better inter-regional air and sea transportation.UnityThe people of the Atlantic/Caribbean, while not in the best economic position as of late, are blessed to have leadership that has bonded as one to ensure that we see ourselves through this pandemic and emerge stronger as a region.As the Caribbean’s elder statesman, St Vincent & the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves always says: “Solidarity!”• Christopher Famous is the government MP for Devonshire East (Constituency 11). You can reach him at WhatsApp on 599-0901 or e-mail at cfamous@plp.bm