Mikael Barfod, head of European Union delegation to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, addressing the forum in Barbados on Thursday. (Photo: Kenroy Ambris)

By Kenton X. Chance

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) — The private sector is being urged to play a greater role in agriculture in the Caribbean as governments help to guard against market failure.

Addressing the 2nd Caribbean Agribusiness Forum in Barbados on Thursday, Mikael Barfod, head of European Union delegation to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, said public funding is unlikely to be sufficient to address access to credit, the provision of risk capital and guarantees of other risk sharing mechanism in the agricultural sector.

“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 told participants at the two-day event, being held under the theme “Strengthening the Agrifood Sector and Expanding Markets”.

The event forms part of the one-week Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum being held here until Friday.

“And this is why forum like this one is important. They provide partners from public and private sector with opportunities to look for innovative ways to create synergies and complementarity and ensure maximum efficiencies of the investment in the sector,” Barfod said.

He added that discussing successful stories of agri-business interventions in the regions should help them understand the needs of the private sector, in term of business environment and implement the necessary reforms for investment to take place.

The diplomat said the tourism industry and supermarkets should offer a growing and reliable market to local production and spoke of the creative initiatives that to partner with chefs that are being discussed.

He noted that strengthening the agri-food sector and expanding markets are very high on the agenda of the European Union priority list in the region for many reasons.

Among these, he mentioned eradicating hunger, which he said, though very low, is still present in the region.

“We all know that agriculture is the most powerful tool to address hunger.”

He further said agriculture is the most powerful tool the region possesses “to increase food security and food sovereignty in a region crippled by a steadily raising food import bill; to make the best out of a robust and growing tourism sector; to revive the rural economy, support wealth creation and value addition; and most importantly, to provide jobs for the youth who are increasingly being left on the road side with all the consequences that we know all too well.”

To these ambitious goals, the EU’s strategy is to support a professional productive, innovative, market-oriented sector, Barfod said.

“In other words, we believe that supporting agri-business and value chains will contribute to reduce hunger and poverty and to increase production, wealth and job creation.”

Speaking at the same forum, Director of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA), Michael Hailu explained the focus on agri-business.

He said in the last few years, there has been much stronger recognition from governments and development partners “that 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.

“If agriculture is treated as a social sector, not really as a business, we are going to have this vicious cycle of poverty, farmers not producing enough more than to feed themselves and so on.

“So, basically, having the private sector sit around the table is absolutely critical.”

Hailu, however, noted that everything cannot be left to the private sector, adding “there are market failures; small failure need support.

“So there is a need for development and policy intervention to bring smallholders into the market in partnership with the private sector.”

Hailu said several partnerships have been taking place globally and within the context of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) and European Union partnership to prioritise private-sector development.

7 replies on “Caribbean private sector urged to play key role in farming”

  1. A lot of empty rhetoric: “synergies,” “complementarity,” “efficiences” … repeated like a mantra for years now with no noticeable result.

    The most mindless term is “food sovereignty,” a concept that applies to no developed country on earth but is a good description of the way our hunting-and-gathering and primitive farming hand-to-mouth ancestors lived for thousands of years before being transformed by the industrial revolution.

  2. I love responding to stories like this!
    They have so many conferences about how to make Agriculture become profitable in the Caribbean. The answer is very simple. Too bad that all these idiots are making suggestions that will do absolutely nothing to solve the problem.
    The problem is that PRICES ARE TOO HIGH! And why are the prices too high?…. because the government taxes are too high, to include Customs duties. In SVG for example: we will not have growth in Agriculture because farm labor costs are the HIGHEST in the Developing World. These costs are too high because those workers have to pay too much for food, energy, etc… At present they would not work for 10 EC a day because it does not buy anything. 50 EC makes our farm products too expensive. No farmer would sell a bag of Edos for 20 EC! That is the cost for Edos from Africa, AND THOSE FARMERS MAKE A PROFIT AT THOSE PRICES!!! Farm labor cost averages 1 US dollar a day in Africa. It is 17 US a day in SVG!
    How are we going to compete with that?
    As we continue to create VAT tax, Bottle tax, Environmental tax, 5.$ to pick up your package at the Post Office tax, ect… and raise all the other taxes such as Customs Duties….WE ARE GOING THE WRONG DIRECTION!!!
    Singapore has been lowering taxes. That is why they are the wealthiest country in the world any why SVG is now (except for Haiti) the poorest country in the Caribbean. When we have to start paying all of Ralph’s loans (with 10 year deferments) we will soon be down with Haiti!
    Agro-Processing Machines and supplies have to be Duty-Free…BY LAW, not by concessions, where they decide on who gets it and who does not, depending on what political party they support or how thick their wallet is.
    At all these meetings they get a buch of idiots telling us what we need to do, not what THEY need to do…It is very simple:
    FARMING WILL INCREASE WHEN IT BECOMES PROFITABLE TO FARM AND PRODUCE…IT IS THAT SIMPLE!

    1. The fact is that most farmers and farm labourers pay no tax and imported products in SVG are no higher than in other developing countries. We also have a lot more expensive social and others services (schools, hospitals, roads, etc.) than most African and other Third World countries. We are technically a lower middle-income country which means we are a lot better off than most people in the world.

      What this means is that peasant farmers have to sell their hand-tool produce grown on tiny plots of land for a high price to make a living.

      Lowering taxes, etc., as you argue, simply would not work unless we are willing to lower our standard of living to what it was 50-60 years ago.

      1. I agree with most of what you say. Of course we cannot oower taxes “cold turkey”. Our government and other stupid governments in the Caribbean have to stop “keeping up with the Jones”. A good example is Gonsalves. is is no where near paying for one project and he is already planning more projects for which we do not have to money for.
        I have to strongly disagree with you when you say that the prices in SVG are the same as other developing countries. Have you ever been to Argentina? the Cook Islands? Nigeria?, etc… in practically all south and Central American nations food and energy prices are much lower. What about Liat prices?….I rest my case!!! Read some of the recent articles of the “farming” conference in Barbados. It has been announced that for Agriculture and Tourism the region is VERY expensive! My wife manages a hotel and most of the guests admit that in SVG you get much less at a high cost. It is very sad that most all Vincentians can’t see this. they deny the very nose on their face! Things ar too expensive here. Duties and taxes are near the highest in the world. This drives prices up. I have been farming for only 10 years but I often talk with farmers in Hawaii, Africa, S America. They can produce good far cheaper than SVG. Why do you thing most all carrots in SVG come from the USA or elsewhere? We grow thousands of pineapple but why is it that the supermarkets sell more imported pineapple at a lower price? FARMING IN SVG IS DYING BECAUSE IT IS BECOMMING UNPROFITABLE TO FARM HERE, BECAUSE WE HAVE INFLATED OUR ECONOMY. STOP SAYING THAT PRICES IN SVG ARE THE SAME AS ELSEWHERE.

      2. If you believe that lowering taxes would lower our standard of living you should visit Singapore. They pay far less taxes than SVG. Do they have a low standard of living?

        So many Vincentians don’t understand Economics, that is why we are an economically failing nation, like other Keynesian countries. Ralph is the biggest economic idiot of them all. With so many people like you, that believe higher taxes make us rich…we are a lost country! Obviously you believe that the Government is the economic engine of growth. The opposite is Singapore where the Private Sector drives the Economy. How has your economics worked out for us? Singapore is the wealthiest country on Earth and SVG is one of the most indebted nations on Earth. I rest my case!!

      3. What makes you think that farmers and farm workers pay no tax on imported products? I am a farmer and if that is not taxes I am paying then what is it?
        Also:
        You say that us farmers pay no higher taxes than in other countries??? You are wrong!!! I regularly communicate with farmers in other countries and in most all countries anything related to Agriculture and Agro-Processing is Duty-Free…NOT IN SVG!!!
        I agree that the farmers are nevertheless better-off in SVG…at least those that are still working…it is only because those countries that grow the same produce that we grow cannot be considered farming. IT IS SLAVERY! They get paid nothing. The big farmers make a fortune in those countries and pay slave wages. THE BIG PROBLEM IS THAT WE FREE FARMERS HAVE TO COMPETE WITH THESE FARMERS THAT CAN SELL PRODUCTS AT A FAR LOWER PRICE THAN WE CAN!

  3. Any investor with deep pockets who would choose to invest in Caribbean agriculture — outside countries with enough land to make industrial agriculture (lots of mechanization and a small labour force) feasible — places like Cuba, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic — would have to be be mad.

    Such investment belonged to the early 17th to mid 19th centuries. It has long been dead — except in the heads of mindless government and NGO bureaucrats — never to reserected.

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