The Caribbean imports 60% of the food it consumes, with this figure rising to 80% for half of the region’s countries. The high dependence on relatively cheap imported foods has had a negative impact on the nutrition, health and economies of Caribbean nations. It has also had a knock-on effect on local food systems, reducing opportunities for local producers and making it harder for agribusinesses to compete with imported foods. If they were to operate more effectively, they would not only be able to respond to domestic demand, but could increase exports within the region and to other parts of the world.
During recent years, the Overcoming Technical Barriers to Trade (ACP-EU TBT) programme has provided support for the Caribbean Agri-Business Association (CABA) to promote certification schemes, such as Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP), for selected food producers. The project is a collaboration with CTA, built on two agribusiness forums held in 2014 and 2015 on the subject of “Enhancing regional trade and adding value to Caribbean agri-food products.” The forums shared success stories among agribusinesses from across the region.
The 3rd Caribbean Agribusiness Forum, held in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, in January 2017, was more like a business meeting, involving 10 companies which had recently been trained in certification under the CABA-sponsored Collective Regional Export Strategy. The Export Strategy is helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to collaborate when searching for markets and procuring inputs and services. One of the strategy’s elements involves the launch of a common regional brand, or mark, so the companies can share the high cost of building a brand.
“Certification under a globally recognised and transparent accredited system is critically important for companies seeking to enter into agreements with specialised markets, such as the tourism and hospitality sector,” says Isolina Boto, Head of CTA’s Brussels office and co-organiser of the forum. “Most hotels, resorts and cruise ships require certification of their suppliers, and they themselves often have to be certified under regulations related to their respective sectors.” As a minimum requirement, most buyers now expect suppliers to have HACCP certification.
The companies who participated in the forum produce a wide variety of products, including sweet potato fries, jams and jellies, frozen cassava, salted trout, spices such as nutmeg and mace, bottled water and chilli pepper sauces. All of them serve local consumer markets, with some of the larger agribusinesses exporting to diaspora markets in North America and Asia.
The forum discussed the companies’ experience with the CABA-sponsored, EU/TBT-funded HACCP certification programme; showcased products to buyers and evaluated each company’s most promising export products; agreed on a strategic plan for the Caribbean Agri-Business Export Company (CABEXCO), which was established to market products made by the companies who took part in the forum; and officially launched CABEXCO.
The companies shared experiences of their history, operations, markets and future goals with experts and buyers from as far afield as Canada and the Netherlands. Proper quality management systems, good labelling and good traceability were identified as key for business development. In this context, CABEXCO was promoted as a potential umbrella organisation for SMEs in the Caricom agribusiness sector. Under CABEXCO these SMEs will be able to jointly procure raw materials and services, and the organisation will market its members’ products and reach out to new buyers.
With help from CTA, CABA has been able to build two e-commerce platforms (www.cabacaribbean.com & www.mycaribbeanshop.com). CABA also has a social media platform (www.talkagri.com) and a programme that certifies basic agricultural skills (www.agri-educate.com).