Let me start by thanking the Government and People of the Cayman Islands for welcoming us warmly and making such excellent arrangements for this year's Caribbean Week of Agriculture.
Transformation of agriculture in the Caribbean is critical in addressing many of the challenges that the region faces. The large and growing food import bill is not only a drain on the region's foreign exchange, but it deprives it of opportunities for economic diversification and job creation, especially for young people, in farming and food processing industries.
As we gather yet for another Caribbean Week of Agriculture, it is important to explore the progress we have made together, identify the common challenges and craft specific measures that will move us forward in transforming the agri-food sector for the benefit of Caribbean farmers and consumers.
The theme of this year's CWA is investment in the food and agriculture sector, and this is a critical constraint for many Caribbean producers. Marketed and distributed properly, quality fresh and value-added agrifood products can be dynamic sources of jobs and income – if only the people behind these enterprises can access the finance and business development support they need to turn them into profitable ventures.
At CTA, we have been increasingly focusing our efforts, working closely with our key partners, on value chain and agri-business development in the region.
An important focus of our work lies in increasing the capabilities of small-scale producers and other players in the value chain, helping them to become better organised and profit from domestic, regional and international markets.
At the level of farmers and their organisations, we are focusing on two key areas. The first involves improving coordination in specific value chains with the greatest potential such as roots & tubers and fruits & vegetables.
This will enable a significant number of farmers to increase their revenues by upgrading products, processes and productivity to match market demands.
Secondly, CTA support involves facilitating access to critical business development services, such as finance, inputs and value addition.
Given CTA's comparative advantage of working in the area of ICTs especially in training and supporting young ICT entrepreneurs, we promote ICTs, more specifically mobile apps to enhance various aspects of the value chain.
CTA has designed a range of initiatives aimed at filling gaps in value chain efficiency, and improving the prospects of all players for generating higher revenues by participating in them. We will be presenting some of these – and the progress made so far – at the workshops in the next few days, examining the successes and impact and identifying where there is potential for scaling up.
One of our projects, in partnership with the Caribbean Farmers Network and the Sandals Foundation, is working to strengthen linkages to domestic, regional and export markets in eight countries. We see that there are good prospects for rolling this out to other countries, beyond the eight countries (Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines).
Some of the most encouraging results of our work involves linking producers to private financial institutions, and I believe there is tremendous scope for building on this approach in the future.
In the Dominican Republic, CTA is collaborating with a private bank (BANCO ADOPEM), which has strong social roots and considers agriculture as a potential growth area–to make responsible, productive finance available to small-scale producers.
Following an initiative CTA launched at the UN Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) conference in Samoa in 2014, we have been promoting agribusiness development for regional and international markets in the Caribbean in collaboration with IICA and the Caribbean Agri-Business Association (CABA). This initiative has a strong element of experience sharing and linking across the SIDS in the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Ocean Countries.
Together, we have organized an annual agribusiness forum, in each of the two regions: to share successful business cases; identify tangible opportunities in new markets; promote linkages between the agri-food sector and the tourism industry to increase sustainable local sourcing; and to strengthen relations between chain actors and the tourism industry.
CTA and IICA have been working very closely to promote linkages between agriculture and tourism through a number of specific initiatives.
In 2015, we carried out a joint study on Agribusiness Development – Strengthening agritourism potential in the Caribbean documenting 11 successful businesses cases in 5 countries. The results have been published and shared widely. We are also just publishing seven cases of culinary tourism in the Caribbean after the success of a similar exercise in the Pacific with Chef Robert Oliver.
Chefs and culinary professionals have a unique role to play in agricultural development: they connect local producers and consumers and understand food origin and history. They can promote local cuisine and provide consumers and tourists with the best of local products. It is also a sector with significant economic and employment opportunities as shown in many parts of the world.
Working with celebrity chefs from the Caribbean and the Pacific, IICA and CTA with many other partners have launched an exciting programme, Chefs for Development, which supports the training of young local chefs on using and promoting local supplies and ingredients to produce high quality dishes. Several people have been trained under this programme which is being expanded.
An online Platform has been set up where best practices in promoting local cuisine with local food can be shared.
CTA has facilitated cross-visit of the chefs from the Caribbean to the Pacific and vice-versa to promote experience sharing and capacity building. We welcome the young chefs who join us this week from the Pacific and of course from the Caribbean.
Partnership is the key to success in transforming Caribbean agriculture to meet growing local needs and penetrate into international markets.
We need to work with the private sector, smallholder producers (they are also private sector), the tourism and hospitality industry, financiers, researchers and innovators and policy makers to create a modern, vibrant and resilient agri-food sector that will produce healthy, nutritious food and jobs for young people.
I very much hope that this week will serve as an important platform to boost investment in the sector and help forge strong public-private partnerships.
I wish you all an enjoyable and productive Caribbean Week of Agriculture."
For more information, please visit:
Stéphane Gambier, Senior Programme Coordinator, Communications (CTA)
Tel.: +31 (0)317 46 71 79