There are several challenges being faced by Caribbean agribusinesses. One of these challenges is the inevitable trade imbalance between small Caribbean island states and the more developed countries. The bigger, more developed nations essentially dump their sub-standard produce into these smaller countries that are struggling to compete with the value of food imports, the tenacious marketing campaigns and the inability for local farmers to maintain a consistent supply of produce to fill the local and export demand.
The Caribbean Agri-Business Forum in Barbados this week focused on several of these issues during the panel on “Opportunities to support agribusiness in the ACP-EU cooperation instruments”.
How can Caribbean countries reduce the high food import bill which is estimated at about $US 4 billion? Why are Caribbean countries importing food that can be grown in the region? And how does this affect Caribbean agri-businesses?
These and many other questions were asked by the panelists comprised of Roy Mickey Joy, Ambassador of Vanuatu to the European Union, Len Ismael, Ambassador, Eastern Caribbean States (ECS) to the EU and coordinator of the ACP SIDS Platform, Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Executive Director, Caribbean Export Development Agency, Junior Lodge, team Leader, ACP TBT Programme and Vassel Stewart, President of the Caribbean Agri-business Association (CABA).
Meeting the demands
Dr. Len Ishmael knows quite well the Caribbean scenario, particularly countries of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). Hence, when she decries the reality of Caribbean countries unable to link agri-business and tourism, many should take note. She recounted an experience where she visited the British Virgin Islands (BVI) only to find imported bananas coming in droves into the country.
When she sought answers from the Chief Minister of the BVI at that time, she was told they would happily accept bananas from the Eastern Caribbean, if the demand can be met. Sadly, the supply from the Eastern Caribbean left a lot to be desired. Farmers across the sub-region continue to struggle to supply the bananas demanded by their fellow states. The results are that territories like the BVI have to import bananas from Central and South American countries, often times of lesser quality.
All hope is not lost however, as the OECS has taken homegrown measures to help address some of these problems, as Dr. Ishmael disclosed. Firstly, the OECS has proposed to the EU to help Dominica to improve its infrastructure and build refrigerated warehouses as it continues to import agricultural imports to neighbouring islands such as St. Kitts and Dominica. Additionally, similar assistance, Dr. Ishmael noted, was provided to Dominica to help it import fresh drinking water to the neighbouring French island of Martinique. Dominica is awash with river; 365 of them – one for every day of the year. Thus, there is no need to import water from the US or Europe.
Pamela Coke-Hamilton made a strong case for Caribbean agri-producers and entrepreneurs to improve on their packaging when exporting and putting their products out to the market. She argued that less healthy food from the more developed countries is more attractive than Caribbean produce. Hence, customers are quicker to purchase these products than those from the Caribbean.
Mrs. Coke-Hamilton thus stressed the need for Caribbean producers and agri-entrepreneurs to spend much time and money into packaging so as to make their products marketable not only on the local stage but for import as well. The challenges are great for Caribbean agribusinesses, but solutions are within their reach. It just requires planning, collaboration and efficiency to get the job done!
Photo credit: Carole Cholai
Blogpost by Andre Huie, Social Reporter for the Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum 2015.