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Partnership key for success in Caribbean agro-sector, says CTA director

Ivan Cairo, Caribbean News Now, 25 Oct 2016

October 25, 2016

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands -- According to Michael Hailu, director of the Technical Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CTA), "Partnership is the key to success in transforming Caribbean agriculture to meet growing local needs and penetrate into international markets."

On Monday, at the kick-off of the Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA-2016) in the Cayman Islands, he stressed that development partners such as CTA need to work with the private sector, smallholder producers, the tourism and hospitality industry, financiers, researchers and innovators and policymakers to create a modern, vibrant and resilient agri-food sector that will produce healthy, nutritious food and jobs for young people.

"Marketed and distributed properly, quality fresh and value-added agri-food 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," said Hailu.

While agriculture has been identified as the key driver for development in the Caribbean, the food import bill of the region is increasing annually, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) official Desiree Field-Ridley said.

She further noted that one of the key constraints is financing for agriculture development and transportation. The official argued that since CARICOM is seeking to establish a single economic space the intention is to make the whole space viable for competitive production and foreign investors and make the region more resilient.

"Agriculture is a key driver for CARICOM," Field-Ridley said.

She mentioned that the regional body, in close cooperation with member states, has developed various strategies and policies on the national level "all in the interest of making our environment more attractive to investments".

Cayman Islands' agriculture minister Kurt Tibbets argued that, in order to create more value in the regional agro-sector, government should create an environment that is attractive for investors. The minister further claimed that, while agriculture in the Cayman Islands in comparison to other countries in the region is on a relatively small scale, it is "fast becoming an industry to be reckoned with".

Tibbets further noted that the success of agriculture in the Caribbean depends on investment, finance and several facilities and services such as irrigation and storage.

"The challenge is to attract investors to create jobs," he said.

Director of the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), Barton Clarke, warned however that taking into account certain developments that are taking place on the geo-political level, investing in agriculture is imperative for food security in the Caribbean.

Therefore institutions that support development of agriculture in the region should become more efficient and effective. There should also be mechanisms in place to support smallholders especially to have more access to financing.

"We cannot ignore that large group of small farmers that we have," Clarke said.

According to the CARDI official, investments should not only focus on making profits, but there should be more investments in education programs. It's also important Clarke argued that there is more investment in political will.

"We need to have some political will that drive us in the right director," he said.

The week-long event under the theme 'Investing in Food and Agriculture' will conclude on Saturday, 28 October.