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Caribbean’s coconut industry needs new approach

The Caribbean is taking steps to revive its potentially profitable coconut industry, a move authorities say will depend on knowledge sharing and the replanting of old plantations with desired varieties for specific products.

Executive Director of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), Dr. Arlington Chesney said the regional coconut production has slumped over the years because scientists back then had blamed coconut oil for some health problems.  That, he said , has since been proven as  “totally untrue.”

You can listen to a live audio webcast of the entire workshop at www.demwaves.com or www.caribnewsdesk.com

He was at the time addressing the opening of a workshop on “Coconut Industry Development for the Caribbean: Towards a Shared Vision and Road Map” at the 12th Caribbean Week of Agriculture being held in Guyana in collaboration with the Netherlands-based Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Development (CTA). ““We hope that we would chart the future for the resurgence of the coconut industry in the Caribbean,” he said.

Chesney suggested that the Caribbean should develop its own plant material by certifying laboratories rather than plants coming from outside the region. “Without a new injection of plant material, we would be doing the same old thing the same old bad way,” he said. He also said the Caribbean should turn to India for coconut harvesting technologies.

Guyana’s Agriculture Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy warned that the Coconut Industry Roadmap would be useless if steps were not taken to organize it along the lines of rice and sugar industries.  Noting that coconut water is a real threat to the beverage industry, he said it was time for old coconut plantations to be replanted with the varieties suitable for optimum production of water, oil or other products. “If we are going to make this industry a robust industry, then we have to start with the infrastructure and the plantations,” he added.

Ramsammy called for a research-driven industry rather than one that is operating on the basis of “ad hocism “

The Guyanese Agriculture Minister recommended that the Caribbean tap into the fertilizer producing nations of Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela to “help solve the fertilizer problem.” Other challenges he identified include the emergence of pests and climate change.  

With assistance from the Inter American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and Mexico, Guyana has established a focal point on the coconut industry.

CTA Director, Michael Hailu hoped that the workshop would see the sharing of experiences among the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Ocean coconut producing nations. “We want to make sure that we respond to the needs of the ACP especially in the area of coconut growing,” he said.

Hailu said the key was to ensure that stakeholders are involved in the discussions as a critical step towards ownership of the needs assessment titled “Development of the Coconut Industry in the Caribbean” by Landel Mills Consultants.

Hailu said it was important to “come up with specific low cost building of national and regional networks and then look at a medium term approach and discuss the institutional mechanisms.”

Top officials of Tonga, Samoa and the Dominican Republic are here for the two-day workshop on the coconut industry.