Director of Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) ACP-EU, Mr Michael Hailu, gave a speech at the Opening Plenary Session, where he addressed investment needs and strategies for agriculture and agri-business.
In his speech, Mr Hailu emphasised that transformation of agriculture in the Caribbean will play a pivotal role in addressing many challenges 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," he said.
Mr Hailu then outlined various areas of progress within the industry. He spoke of the partnership between the Caribbean Farmer's Market and the Sandals Foundation in working to strengthen linkages to domestic, regional and export markets in eight countries – Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines and suggested a rolling out of similar projects in other countries in the region. "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," he said.
He explained that a constraint for many Caribbean producers is accessing resources and support to enable them to market and properly distribute quality fresh and value added agri-food products. He stated, "...if only the people behind these enterprises can access the finance and business development support they need to turn them into profitable ventures." Mr Hailu then cited a successful example of such an initiative, explaining that in the Dominican Republic the CTA is collaborating with a private bank (BANCO ADOPEM), with strong social roots who considers agriculture as a potential growth area–to make responsible, productive finance available to small-scale producers.
Mr Hailu also spoke on the work between CTA and IILCA who have been working closely to promote linkages between agriculture and tourism through a number of specific initiatives. He explained that in 2015, they carried out a joint study on Agribusiness Development – Strengthening agritourism potential in the Caribbean documenting 11 successful businesses cases in 5 countries. They also just published 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," he said.
The Director said that 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. He explained that some of the initiatives and their progress would be presented at the workshops over the course of the event, and that they would specifically examine successes and impacts while identifying where there is potential for scaling up.
"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," he stated.