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Private sector key to agri-business development but govt still important player

The 2nd Caribbean Agri-Business Forum

The private sector is key to driving the development of agriculture businesses but at the same time there is a crucial role for other stakeholders should the market falter,  the Executive Director Director, ACP/EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), Michaeil Hailu said Thursday.

Addressing the opening of the 2nd Caribbean Agri-Business Forum at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, Bridgetown,  Barbados Hailu stressed the need to involve the private sector in the development of food production businesses.

“Unless the private sector is proactively engaged in this dialogue on development, especially in the context of agriculture we can’t really make much progress,” he said.

The Caribbean Agri-Business Forum is being held as part of activities of the Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum in which experts, policymakers, farmers, producers and chefs are exploring ways of increasing the production of nutritious foods with special emphasis on agro-tourism, roots, tubers, herbs and spices.

The CTA Director cautioned against regarding agriculture as merely a “social sector” and not as a profit-making enterprise. “If agriculture is treated as a social sector and not really as a business we are going to have this vicious cycle of poverty, farmers not producing enough more than to fix themselves, not accessing markets and so on,” he said.

While there is need to prioritise the involvement of the private sector in food production and distribution, Hailu said there would still be a role for other partners if markets fall on hard times.

“Of course you can’t leave everything to the private sector because there are market failures, small-holder farmers need support so there is need for development and government policy intervention in smallholders into the market in partnership with the private sector,” he said. The CTA boss also highlighted the need to always have farmers at the centre of the discussions and interact with policy makers and financiers.

Head of the European Union’s Delegation to the Eastern Caribbean, Caricom and Cariforum, Mikael Barford added that the private sector should be a major leader in developing agri-businesses because public funds were expected to be insufficient. “Farming is a private sector activity and therefore the private sector should assume a larger role in guiding it and, most importantly, in investing in the sector,” he said.  Barford hoped the Caribbean Agri-Business Forum would provide partners from public and private sector, with opportunities “to look for innovative ways to create synergies and complementarities and ensure maximum efficiency of the investments in the sector.”

“Discussing successful stories of agri-business ventures in the region should help us understand the needs of the private sector, in terms of business environment and implement the necessary reforms for more investments to take place,” he said. The top EU diplomat in the Caribbean encouraged participants to explore opportunities in the regional and international markets and take advantage of the EU-Caribbean Economic Partnership Agreement signed with the region several years ago.

Barford said as part of the package of objectives to improve the rural economy, support wealth creation and provide jobs for youths, he hoped that supermarkets would sell more locally produced food. “We also believe the tourism industry as well as supermarkets should offer a growing and reliable market to local production. Hence we look forward to the recommendations of the panel discussions on that topic as well as the creative initiative to partner with chefs,” he said.

Meanwhile, President of the Caribbean Agri Business Association (CABA), Vassel Stewart assured that the Agri Business Forum would not be another talk-shop because participants would emerge with concrete plans and proposals. “It is not going to be another talk-shop. We have asked our presenters…some specific responses. Out of those responses, we expect that we’ll have some very clear proposed actions, perhaps proposed projects that will become the responsibility not just of us as the institutions but I want to charge all of you are going to be tied to whatever decisions and whatever outputs are made here today,”  he said.

Forum organizers intend to put in place a system to monitor and follow-up decisions to ensure accountability.

The Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum and the Caribbean Agri-Business Forum are being supported by the Netherlands-based CTA and Barbados.