The Caribbean Week of Agriculture, an annual forum of technical experts and farmers organisations, could soon become a marketplace for the private sector in the region’s quest to boost food production and reduce its annual food import and health care bills.
Secretary General of the 15-nation Caribbean Community (Caricom), Irwin La Rocque on Wednesday issued the call in an address to the opening session of the agricultural ministerial meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) in the Cayman Islands.
“We must promote this event in such a manner that would bring about wider participation of all stakeholders, our farmers, the private sector, buyers and sellers, youth, women, our development partners, our institutions and agencies and our policy makers as we seek to further develop the sector. That must be our goal,” he said in his address.
He later told Demerara Waves Online News that his call was influenced said the CWA should be more than just talking about agriculture. “It’s a premier activity and really it’s not just be about developments, meeting and talking about agriculture; it’s about how we can bring all stakeholders, all persons interested in coming together to further develop agriculture,” La Rocque said.
The Caricom Secretary General said CWA has “tremendous potential” but it should include wide private sector participation. “It can’t be done by governments solely , it can’t be done by some of the international and regional institutions. We need the farmers, we need the youth and we need outside investment and we need inside investment to make this a success and to grow it up,” he said.
Executive Director of the Technical Centre for Rural Agriculture and Cooperation (CTA), Michael Hailu welcomed the Caricom Secretary General’s suggestion. “I think it is an excellent opportunity especially to be able to bring the private sector,” he said.
Hailu said the CWA could be turned into an agri-business fair that brings together the producers, marketers, processors and other players in the value chain. “You could create a nice agri-business forum instead of just having more of the technical people so I think this is an excellent suggestion,” he said.
The CTA boss said moving forward on the idea would depend on the interest of the private sector and countries that would be willing to host such an event. He floated the idea of using domestic agricultural fairs as a “platform” for a Caribbean-wide agribusiness show.
The Caribbean Farmers Network (CAFAN), Caribbean Agribusiness Business Association, Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), Inter-American Institute in Cooperation for Agriculture (IICA) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) are among the institutions that participate annually in CTA discussions.
The CWA is organized by the CTA and is held by a selected territory annually to share ideas on how best to reduce the Caribbean’s food import bill which stands at US$4.75 billion annually.
Experts also say that the huge consumption of foreign foods is leading to a rise in non-communicable diseases which in turn is draining national treasuries of millions of dollars annually for the provision of treatment and care.
Caribbean public and private sector officials have for years been calling for heightened education about the value of using locally produced foods. Recent successes include the use of 40 percent of cassava flour in the production of bread and pastries in Barbados and the increasing substitution of Irish potato fries with sweet potatato, cassava and plantain fries by some fast food restaurants.