(Editor’s note; Below are excerpts from a speech given at the recent Caribbean Food Crop Society meeting held in Miami, Florida.)

When in 2005, Heads of Government agreed with the lead Head of Government for Agriculture that the immediate focus on agriculture should be addressing the key binding constraints to agriculture production and export, it is instructive to note that these constraints identified were almost the same as they were decades before. And I say ‘almost’ only just in case there might just have been shades of difference, not that I necessarily believe so.

So, how do we now get action which had been slow in previous attempts? How do we succeed in having Agriculture operate as a business to achieve the goals that have been agreed? The constraints must be addressed and entrepreneurial activity promoted through concerted regional action on the immediate priorities of:

– Attracting investment and financing into the sector

– Upgrading of facilities for intra-regional agricultural trade and transport and including:

– Strengthened regional collaboration in agriculture R&D particularly by cooperation among national R&D bodies and by the revitalisation of existing institutions with increased funding of regional bodies; and in SPS which mechanism is used not only to protect our human, animal and plant health but also to facilitate trade, particularly intra-regional trade in the context of seeking to ensure regional food and nutrition security;

– Market intelligence – sharing of information with respect to demand and supply for agricultural commodities

– Solving the transportation inadequacies which include the chicken and egg conundrum of not enough export production to attract transport and not enough transport to encourage and support production.

– Training and skills development

– Strengthening of Private Sector Organizations, as a medium to facilitate, develop and empower entrepreneurial capacity throughout the commodity value chain

CARICOM has given regional focus to the financing constraint with a Regional Donor Conference in June 2007 and then an Investment Forum in June 2008. But these initiatives will only be as good as governments are able to provide the enabling environment – physical and institutional infrastructure and incentives for attracting investment. Already the farming community is an aging one and there are issues like land tenure for small farmers.

Since policies must support linkages with other sectors and indeed linkages across the Region, investment ventures must be supported by the harmonisation of planning and financing policies across the Region. The Community needs to ensure policies for public investment for rural, marketing and agricultural health and food safety infrastructure, while specifically rewarding the private sector for the use of measures which ensure the safety of food from farm to fork.

… The development of regional policies has begun with, for example proposals for a Regional Fisheries Policy and Regime which takes us past the traditional of access to each other’s goods and services and into considerations of sustainable access to natural resources which are the national assets of Member States and which can be depleted.

The role of governments in meeting the economic challenges in this century cannot be over-emphasised. The Community must be committed in ensuring policy coherence and implementation of such policies and measures necessary to bring about the required transformation. At the regional level, increased and increasing attention is being focused on agriculture. At the national level, this must also become evident in the support and allocation of increased funding for the agricultural sector while intensively pursuing external assistance for further development.

Ms. Desiree Field-Ridley, Advisor, CARICOM Single Market and Sectoral Programmes