GEORGETOWN, Guyana — After two days of intense discussions, stakeholders in the Caribbean coconut industry meeting here have come up with “concrete and constructive suggestions” geared at creating a shared vision and roadmap for the sector.
On Tuesday, the stakeholders wrapped up a two-day workshop titled “Coconut Industry Development for the Caribbean: Towards a Shared Vision”.
The workshop forms part of Caribbean Week of Agriculture, which continues here until Saturday.
Stakeholders also made a number of recommendations about improving planting material, public-private partnership collaboration, and a clearer understanding of the marketing opportunities.
The workshop opened on Monday, with Ambassador Robert Kopecky, head of the European Union Delegation in Guyana, saying that the coconut industry historically constituted an important sector in agricultural development in the Caribbean region.
He said a recommendation of the EU-funded All ACP Agricultural Commodities Programme (AAACP) was that instead of trying to cover all of the main commodities throughout the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) region, a successor programme should concentrate on a few key commodities.
He said that while more than 70 per cent of world coconut production comes from Asia, coconut production is still important in some island states, such as in the Caribbean.
“It represents a source of stable and significant employment and revenue in some rural areas and thereby assures food security for the farmers growing them, who often do so in an agro-forestry context,” Kopecky said.
He however said that coconut production figures in many Pacific or Caribbean islands have stabilised or fallen — often due to a lack of private sector or government support.
Kopecky said this is taking place even as recipes with exotic ingredients across the world have created a range of new and exciting markets, boosted by high-end cooking ingredients, such as fresh coconut, coconut oil, and coconut milk.
“And this is an opportunity to be seized,” he said.
Dr. Arlington Chesney, executive director of the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), said regional coconut production slumped some years ago after scientists blamed coconut oil for some health problems.
He said this has since been proven to be “totally untrue”.
“We hope that we would chart the future for the resurgence of the coconut industry in the Caribbean,” he said.
Chesney further said that the Caribbean should develop its own plant material by certifying laboratories rather than using plants from outside the region.
“Without a new injection of plant material, we would be doing the same old thing the same old bad way,” he said. “The Caribbean should turn to India for coconut harvesting technologies,” he further stated.
And, ahead of the discussion, Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy warned that the Coconut Industry Roadmap would be useless if steps were not taken to organize it along the lines of rice and sugar industries.
He said coconut water is a real threat to the beverage industry and called for coconut plantations to be replanted with the varieties suitable for optimum production of water, oil, or other products.
“If we are going to make this industry a robust industry, then we have to start with the infrastructure and the plantations,” he said.
Ramsammy called for a research-driven industry rather than one that is operating on the basis of “ad-hocism”.
He recommended that the Caribbean tap into the fertilizer producing nations of Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela to “help solve the fertilizer problem”.
Other challenges he identified include the emergence of pests, and climate change.
With assistance from the Inter American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and Mexico, Guyana has established a focal point on the coconut industry.
Meanwhile, Director of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation’s (CTA), Michael Hailu, said his organisation wants to ensure that it respond to the needs of the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, especially in the area of coconut growing.
Hailu said a key was to ensure that stakeholders are involved in the discussions as a critical step towards ownership of the needs assessment titled “Development of the Coconut Industry in the Caribbean” by Landell Mills Consultants.
He said it was important to come up with “specific low cost building of national and regional networks and then look at a medium term approach and discuss the institutional mechanisms”.
The workshop was co-hosted by CTA, CARDI and the University of the West Indies.
Ministers and other officials from Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Dominican Republic and the European Union are attending the CWA for the first time and participated in the discussions about the coconut industry and shared their respective experiences.
The workshop heard that coconut products can help to reduce Type 2 diabetes and hypertension — two of the leading non-communicable health problems in the Caribbean.
Participants were also told of published research papers that lauded the many health benefits of coconut.
The workshop also heard that importation of coconut water in the United States has moved from an irrelevant figure 10 years ago, to become a US$500 million industry, with some of the leading players including Pepsi.