By JoEllen Laryea
At the Caribbean Export Development Agency’s first Caribbean AgTech Investment Summit (CATIS) the need for investment in high technology agriculture and agro-processing in the region was laid bare by senior officials. The 3-day virtual event which commenced October 5, 2021, welcomed over 500 registrants from 60 countries around the world.
“There is a need for a paradigm shift in the use of technology within the agricultural sector” stressed the president of Guyana Dr Irfaan Ali in his feature address. “Technology transfer is not cheap and for small farmers the high cost can act as a disincentive to the use of technology”.
Acknowledging that small farmers may not be in the position to make the capital investment into drone technologies for example, the adoption of AgTech must be appropriate.
“Agricultural technologies have to be appropriate and affordable. Appropriate technologies can be adopted to help improve land preparation, cultivation, at a reduced post-harvest loss”.
President Ali shared how ICT had already begun to provide services to farmers through the use of machinery to improve land preparation and harvesting, increase yields and employment of better farming techniques. President Ali also stressed, “the Caribbean has to be abreast with evolving agricultural technologies. Unless it does so it will find itself losing competitiveness and being left behind”.
The president also shared that “the Caribbean Community is working to bring about technological improvement in agriculture. It has established a ministerial task force to advance the transformation of regional food systems. The task force is in the process of developing the CARICOM e-agricultural strategy with support from IICA, to improve producers competitiveness, incorporate greater climate-smart technologies in the production process, increasing intra-regional trade and improving market infrastructure and connectivity, especially for small producers”.
The CATIS 2021 event was conceptualised to increase investment into the agribusiness sector in the Caribbean. The event will showcase AgTech success stories and provide information on the business environment in the Caribbean to interested investors. Further, country presentations highlight the opportunities available in specific countries in the region.
The event is convened by Caribbean Export in collaboration with the European Union (EU) and the Caribbean Association of Investment Promotion Agencies (CAIPA). Other partners include the Caribbean Agribusiness Association (CABA) and COLEACP.
Speaking on behalf of the EU ambassador to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean, OECS, CARICOM/CARIFORUM, Luis Maia, Head of Cooperation highlighted that the EU has been a partner for more than two decades, providing development support to businesses in the Caribbean. He noted further that agriculture and the agro-processing sector has been a priority sector benefiting from a range of interventions. The challenge however is the lack of funding available to small businesses.
“In a context where access to funding is a major obstacle in the region, the sector needs investors to come in and support its ambitions and allow it to play a vital societal and economical role,” said Maia.
“Private sector development plays a key role in creating economic growth, employment, and improving living conditions. The private sector enables governments in developing countries to generate increased tax revenues, thereby contributing to the funding of wider development strategies, and encourages entrepreneurship and diversification of the economy” he continued.
Caribbean Export’s executive director, Deodat Maharaj, noted the motivating factors for the event, being the need to reduce the region´s high food import bill to achieve food security and ensure the best quality and nutritious products for the region´s people given the high levels of non-communicable diseases in the Caribbean.
“The food import bill for CARICOM countries increased to almost US$5 billion in 2018, doubling expenditure which stood at $2.1 billion in 2000. The FAO has indicated that if current trends continued, an increase to $8-10 billion was expected in 2020. These figures represent more than 60 percent of total food consumption for almost all CARICOM members, with half of these countries importing more than 80 percent of the food they consume. Simply put … most of our foreign exchange earnings in the region are being spent on food imports.”
He went on to highlight how the COVID-19 pandemic has further compounded the challenges in the region, adversely affecting global food supply chains, leading to scarcity of some food items, and calling for the region to find a way to produce more of the food we eat closer to home.
“Here is an opportunity to invest in the production of healthy food options for the more than 30 million inhabitants of the Caribbean and in recent times close to 30 million tourists who travel to our region yearly.”
Governments in the Caribbean have set an ambitious target to realise a 25 percent reduction in the region’s food import bill over the next five years (until 2025). Attracting partners who will be investing in the use of technological advancements and innovation in agricultural production and agro-processing will help us to ensure that this target is achieved, and sustainable jobs are created in the region.
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