We need to stop thinking 'cocoa', and start thinking 'chocolate'

Keron Bascombe

Turmeric and Chocolate Soaps by Eco-Truffles. Photo Credit: Nolana Lynch

Most people will agree that there’s nothing greater than eating a meal made with fresh fruits, vegetables, provision, herbs and spices. Fresh, locally grown food which moves from farm to fork in the shortest time frame likely tastes the best and is better for our health.

Mr. Barton Clarke of the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) delivered riveting remarks at the opening plenary of the Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2016 which truly encompassed the importance of the agricultural value chain to the region.

An increase of primary agriculture will increase food security in the Caribbean. Reports show that in 2015 the region’s food import bill was over 5 billion US dollars.

Increasing our agricultural output within the region will greatly reduce our expenditure and enhance our quality of life with fresh, healthier food that is indigenous to the Caribbean.

For increased economic stability in the region, we must also look at sustainable and profitable value chains in the agricultural sector.  There are a number of ventures within the region that have been moving in this direction, especially over the past five years.

When I started Eco-Truffles, a social low-carbon enterprise which manufactures high-quality, emollient-rich cosmetics that uses exotic tropical agricultural produce, that’s exactly what I had in mind.

Many companies have also showed great agricultural innovation throughout the region and developed successful businesses.

However, Mrs. Desiree Field-Ridley, advisor at the CARICOM Secretariat, held a contradictory view which she expressed at the opening. She explained that Agriculture in the region is small scale and not ready for the level of investment that some stakeholders, such as Mr. Doug Hewson, Managing Partner at Portland Private Equity L.P., was ready to provide.

Mr. Hewson stated in his presentation that his company was currently seeking to invest US$20 – 40 million dollars each in 6 agricultural projects throughout the Caribbean region. Some of the projects they’ve currently invested in the region are Blue Mountain Coffee in Jamaica, Columbus Communications and Inter-Energy Holdings.

Mr. Hewson indicated that the pre-conditions for considering investment would be where there are currently inefficient organizations or systems, a dearth of capital and a gap between perception and reality.

Portland Private Equity is interested in building strong indigenous businesses in the Caribbean, which will decrease the chronic problem of ‘brain drain’ and see a repatriation of profits within the region.

At present they are seeking to invest in 76 renewable energy projects and 27 manufacturing and services projects. This is the type of investment that we need to truly advance the quality and impact of agri-businesses within the region.

If we continue placing small scale input into the agricultural sector, we will continue to get small scale output.

How can we truly impact on the level of food security and significantly decrease our food import bill without large scale investment into the sector?

In addition to considerably increasing the volume of primary agricultural products being harvested in the region, we need to develop sustainable industries that make profitable use of agricultural resources, without hindering food security in the region.

Furthermore, we need to stop seeing the agricultural sector as only small-scale sustenance farming, kitchen gardens, and vendors which can only supply a small populace, we need to look at the big picture of agriculture, pushing large investments into the sector.

We need to stop thinking ‘cocoa’ and start thinking ‘chocolate’.

Written by: Nolana Lynch

Edited by: Nakasi Fortune

Photo Credit: Nolana Lynch

Copyright © 2016, CTA. Technical Centre for Rural and Agricultural Cooperation

CTA is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.