BELMOPAN, Belize – Focus on agriculture and food production as a business, alongside the private sector as the centre of agriculture and food production was the recurring theme as the 12th Regional Agricultural Planners’ Forum began Monday at the Best Western Plus Belize Biltmore Plaza in Belize City.
Speakers at the opening ceremony of the two-day Forum zeroed in on issues such as improving the competitiveness of regional agriculture, attracting good investments in the sector, digitalising agriculture, focusing on agriculture as a business, and moving at the pace of business and not at the speed of bureaucracy.
Reducing the region’s more than US$4 billion food import bill and the necessity for quality data for prudent decision-making were among the matters that were frustrating stakeholders.
Agriculture minister of Belize, Godwin Hulse, said that the Forum was extremely important as it aimed to bring stakeholders together to discuss cooperation on matters of importance to agriculture in the region.
The region, he said, appeared to be struggling to get agriculture to a “place where we could be justifiably proud”. He emphasized the need for the agriculture sector to be business-oriented, adding that “the days of subsistence farming and self-sufficiency were long gone.”
“Young people especially are morphing away from agriculture because it doesn’t offer them any serious financial rewards so we would be relegated to more massive importation of the basic commodities. If we focus on it as a business, we could reduce the regional food import bill – which is still extremely high and promote extra-regional exports,” minister Hulse explained.
Dr Renata Clark, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Sub-regional Coordinator for the Caribbean, who spoke at the opening said momentum appeared to be building in the sector.
“Agriculture seems to be undergoing somewhat of a revival in the Caribbean. At least there are more and more people, some very highly-placed decision-makers who are talking the talk; momentum is building and the jury is out as to whether we actually go ahead and walk the walk. But we’re in a good place at the moment,” she told delegates at the opening.
She added that “we need to be working together, and this is what this Planners’ Forum is all about… we do need to be working as one to put agriculture where it needs to be in the Caribbean”. She added that there was a need to improve the competitiveness in agriculture, leverage technologies, and reduce “regulatory burdens without compromising the purpose of regulations”. She also called for the production of better data to inform decisions.
“How can we plan and we lack that base knowledge of where we are,” Dr Clarke asked rhetorically?
In his remarks, Shaun Baugh, programme manager, agriculture at the CARICOM secretariat pointed out that the Forum sought to shift the focus from heavy regulation to business facilitation towards practical, workable solutions and ultimately, economic development and regional integration.
Beverly Best of Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) called for creative and disruptive ideas to evolve in the deliberations. The stakeholder representation at the Forum demonstrated a strong readiness and commitment to the theme of the Forum ‘Capitalising on the New Frontier in Global Agriculture’.
Pointing to agriculture as a dynamic sector, Best said that technology had the capacity to create a new wave of innovation in agriculture that would assist in better decision-making, especially decisions related to the business of agriculture.
The benefits of technology in the sector were also highlighted when Benjamin K. Addom PhD, team leader ICTs for Agriculture of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) spoke. With youth entrepreneurship, climate resilience and the digitalisation of agriculture as key areas of focus, CTA understood that technological tools were critical to help to transform agriculture.
Action plans to enhance agriculture and food production are expected to be among the outcome of the Forum. Focus on agriculture and food production as a business.