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Education, branding, buying local offered as way forward in agriculture sector

Caricom today, 27 Oct 2016

October 26, 2016

Improving the Caribbean's knowledge and skills base, well-trained agronomists, attractively branding locally and regionally produced items, were some of the recommendations that emerged from a day-long agriculture investment forum in the Cayman Islands.

The forum was one of the activities of Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) underway in Grand Cayman. The forum, themed 'Towards an investment strategy for food and agriculture', was held immediately following the opening ceremony on Wednesday morning. It attracted a wide cross-section of stakeholders in agriculture including farmers, financiers, buyers, businessmen and policymakers.

"Farming is one of the most highly skilled jobs in the world, and people have absolutely no idea that this is the case. Training agronomists, the understanding of agriculture is absolutely key. Farming is way more complicated than putting a seed in the ground and walking around with a watering can," said Mr. Desmond Sheehy, Co-founder and Managing Director, Duxton Asset Management.

Mr. Komal Samaroo, Chairman, Guyana's Demerara Distillers Limited, agreed that the Region had to start with the education system, connecting the theoretical with the practical to generate progress, and ensuring that people know that "what we produce is good and wholesome".

He rallied the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to "get behind" locally produced items, and create a domestic base from which there could be movement towards niche markets around the world.

He told the well-attended forum at the Westin Resort, that the Region was"hurt very badly" when the "pendulum of trade" swung from one extreme to the other.

"We need to move pendulum back to the middle where commonsense prevails, where farmers are not disadvantaged by larger countries... We need to educate people that what we produce is good and wholesome. It is not genetically modified. There is need for the food and drug administrations to review the labelling and packaging requirements so that consumers can identify by symbol ... what is produced regionally from what is imported and simply assembled in the Region. We need to build a globally competitive industry," Mr. Samaroo underscored.

The presentations by Messrs. Sheehy and Samaroo, and by Ms. Noemi Perez, President and CEO of the Finance Alliance for Sustainable Trade (FAST) were made under the broad heading of 'International and Regional Perspectives on Investment.

At the heart of the Region's quest for greater investment to improve the agriculture sector is the reduction of the rising food import bill which currently stands at about US$4B. Stakeholders are also aggressively moving to influence the production and consumption of wholesome foods as part of efforts to battle non-communicable diseases that are prevalent in the Region.