"In the last few years, there has been increased recognition on the part of policy-makers and development partners about the importance of actively engaging the private sector if agriculture is to be transformed from a social issue to a business issue that meets the challenges of food security, nutrition, climate change, employment for young people and overall economic growth in small island developing countries," said CTA Director Michael Hailu. "We recognise that partnership is absolutely essential to achieve real transformation of the agri-food sector - partnership among farmers, agribusinesses, financial institutions, government, the research community and development partners."
Bringing together figures from the agribusiness and finance sectors, and linking them to farmers and other rural actors, the forum explored areas with scope for driving economic growth against a backdrop of serious challenges for many island states. The Caribbean, whose economy was once anchored in sugar and bananas, can no longer rely on these commodity mainstays, given the end of preferential trade conditions with the European Union. Both the Caribbean and Pacific regions share a number of problems, including vulnerability to climate change and soaring food import bills, with subsequent high levels of non-communicable diseases.
"The question that needs to be asked for Barbados and countries in CARICOM is that after changing the trading regime in the year 2000, why has the economic performance of our countries been so dismal in terms of the performance of our productive sectors?" said James Paul, Chief Executive Officer for the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS). "Why has the decline in our productive sectors, including agriculture, been so dramatic despite every assurance to the contrary by those who crafted and led us into this new dispensation? The true intentions of those responsible for the current situation may never be known, but one of the glaring results is the alienation of people from the land. There is a huge disconnect between the ordinary citizen and people in the agricultural sector."
Poor access to value chain finance, lack of risk management institutions and scant opportunities for farmer participation in shaping policies that affect them emerged as serious obstacles to agribusiness development in many small island states during sessions at the forum. Agricultural production is seriously threatened by climate change, with strong evidence of increased natural disasters and erratic rainfall patterns in many island states.
Yet in spite of the many challenges, practical solutions are available and a rich programme of workshops held during the five-day forum explored how these and other hurdles may be overcome. The 2nd Caribbean Agribusiness Forum - Strengthening the Agri-Food Sector and Expanding Markets, held during the last two days of the event, highlighted the main drivers of agribusiness development and examined successes that could be scaled up, with a special focus on tapping valuable and growing tourism-related markets.
A two-day workshop on climate change pinpointed successful climate smart agriculture technologies, including water harvesting and recycling to respond to drought, use of ICT tools to disseminate information to farmers and fisherfolk and integration of local knowledge with geographic information systems to build models for community action on climate change.
A session on value chain development and inclusive business models recommended promoting vertical integration along the chain as a strategy for increasing value retention. Capacity building efforts for specific projects need to focus on governance of agri-food producers' organisations and adopt a more business oriented mentality.
The Caribbean Farmers' Network (CaFAN) will be working with expert institutions to develop a comprehensive factoring scheme for the Caribbean region, enabling farmers to receive payment directly upon delivery of their products, rather than waiting months for bills to be settled.
Developing farm certification, seed certification, technology application and market-driven production are all ways that farmers can increase their credibility with lenders and improve their access to credit channels. Currently, there is a massive financing gap in agriculture, both for farmers and small and medium enterprises.
Shaping policies relevant to value chain development will benefit from improved collaboration between farmers, agri-food producers and governments, according to a workshop on policy analysis and advocacy for Caribbean and Pacific farmers' leaders. Mechanisms such as pre-financing freight or packaging by buyers, and financing mechanisms that are trade and commodity specific can greatly support effective small-scale farmer participation in agri-food value chains.
Participants agreed to cooperate for greater knowledge capture and exchange – sharing success stories, developing guides for specific value chains and contributing to an agri-business finance blog.
A series of CTA-led training sessions on Web 2.0 and social media illustrated the power and potential of using tools such as Facebook and Google Drive to advance agricultural marketing, business and online collaboration. Social media reporting was provided throughout the forum by a team of young people from the Caribbean and Pacific, trained by CTA experts before the event. The initiative was part of an ongoing strategy to encourage youth engagement in agriculture and promote agricultural innovations and best practices throughout ACP regions.
Promoting agribusiness development to achieve agricultural transformation, by forging stronger linkages between agriculture and tourism will offer real opportunities for small-scale producers and rural entrepreneurs in island communities, experts agreed. Targeting chefs to promote indigenous foods and help farmers access markets in the hospitality sector can be a highly effective way of providing sustainable incomes for smallholder farmers.
"Agribusiness and agritourism is very important, not only for small-scale operators, but also for larger companies," said Ena Harvey, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) representative for Barbados and agritourism specialist. "In the Caribbean, we have so much in terms not only of food and hotel tourism, but also rural tourism agricultural potential. We have heritage sites, we have health and wellness companies, we have a number of plantation sites that can be turned into museums. All these types of agribusiness lead to sustainable livelihoods for communities and businesses."
The Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum was organised by CTA, together with BAS and IICA, and funded by the European Union through the Intra-ACP Agricultural Policy Programme. The 2nd Caribbean Agribusiness Forum - Strengthening the Agri-Food Sector and Expanding Markets was organised by CTA, IICA and the Caribbean Agribusiness Association (CABA).
For more information, please contact:
Stéphane Gambier, Senior Programme Coordinator Communications (CTA)
Tel.: +31 (0)317 46 71 79