The theme of the 14th edition of the Caribbean Week of Agriculture Investing in Food and Agriculture in the Caribbean could not be more apt or timely. Investing in agriculture is one of the most effective ways of reducing poverty and promoting sustainability. Yet financial commitment to this sector is still inadequate in the Caribbean, as in many countries of Africa, and the Pacific, despite the promise that agriculture holds for creating jobs, incomes, food security and protecting public health.
This latter issue is a particularly important one in a region whose food import bill is dangerously high. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries have made good progress in reducing undernourishment and towards meeting the global hunger targets – the number of undernourished persons in the Caribbean declined from 8.1 million in 1990-92, to 7.5 million in 2014-16. But these same countries have an annual food import bill of more than US$4 billion, an increase of 50 percent since 2000, and this figure is expected to more than double to $8-10 billion by 2020 if the current pattern continues. Much of this food consists of processed products, calorie-dense refined carbohydrates, high fats, sweeteners and sodium, all of which contribute to high levels of non-communicable diseases, such as hypertension, stroke and diabetes.
Investing in agriculture can help to address these and other challenges facing the Caribbean, including providing a future for the region's younger generation. If we look at the bigger picture, including agribusiness alongside straightforward primary agricultural production, it quickly becomes clear that the scope for this sector is massive. If you consider food, non-food, agro-processing and the region's flourishing hospitality industry, the potential contribution of food and agriculture to Caribbean economies and livelihoods takes on a whole new dimension. It is important to stress this contribution and advocate for greater and better quality investment in the sector.
Taking a value chain approach to agribusiness development is widely recognised as the most effective way of ensuring sustainable growth for food and agriculture, taken in its broader sense. This involves a whole range of linkages in the agricultural continuum, including input provision, production, storage, transportation and marketing, and ensuring that they all work as effectively as possible. Several of these issues will be the target of discussion during the CWA 2016. At CTA, much of our work in the Caribbean has focused on developing sustainable and profitable value chains and agribusiness ventures, and we look forward to contributing our experience in implementing a number of such initiatives on the ground.
One important way in which we are supporting value chain development is through capacity building for producer organisations, helping them to become more business oriented and to be inclusive of young people and women. Innovative schemes for working with these farmers' organisations, as well as for accessing working capital and production inputs and ensuring more robust infrastructure for post-harvest management and marketing, are all critical areas that need to be developed or strengthened. We are particularly interested in teaming up with organisations that can provide essential business development services, such as market information, ICT tools and finance, and we have already forged a number of strong and dynamic partnerships to that effect. The private sector has a special role to play in providing clear market signals, skills and expertise towards more profitable business practices.
Together with long-standing partner the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), we are working to promote agritourism as a pathway to sustainable rural development – a sector that has significant potential for Caribbean small island states, and which encompasses a whole range of activities, including supplying hotels and restaurants, agro-processing local products and hosting farm stays and visits.
In an environment where there is strong competition for scarce resources, it is important to have affordable and effective systems to measure performance of the different actors. CTA is looking to join up with partners to do just that, so as to learn from best monitoring and evaluation practices and analyse the impact. That is the basis for building programmes that have the greatest potential to reach impact at scale. Having clear baselines to help us document change is a priority in our ongoing three-year regional business plan for the Caribbean.The Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2016 represents a unique opportunity to explore effective ways of working together to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) designed and agreed on by world leaders. Investing more – and more wisely – in food and agriculture in the Caribbean will go a long way towards achieving several of these objectives, especially SDG2: end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. That is the overarching motive that brings us together this week.I wish you a productive few days here in the Cayman Islands and look forward to exchanging ideas and experiences that can lead to a better future for this region and its people – a future that is well within their grasp and that they so richly deserve.