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Regional businesses urged to share the risk, reap rewards

Published:Monday | October 13, 2014 | 12:00 AM

PARAMARIBO, Suriname: Entrepreneurs should strive to take literal ownership of the many available and pending, potentially lucrative, value-chain options up for grabs in the region by risking their own money and moving away from an ingrained dependence on governments for venture capital.

That is the view of Robert Reid, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture's international specialist in the area of agro business and commercialisation.

Reid, who chaired the two-day value-chain development workshop during the Caribbean Week of Agriculture in Paramaribo, Suriname, last week, argued that risk-averse business people were missing out on many good business opportunities and challenged them to be more innovative and look beyond the obvious when scouting for fresh business ideas.

"I raise the example of the banga mary, a low-level fish. If you see how, in the hotels, in Suriname it is being smoked and presented as a gourmet delicacy. Why can't we take our local produce and present it in these high-value niche markets and get good returns from it? Producer groups have to start investing their money in chain activities, take responsibility for their actions, and stop relying too much on the government and its extension service," he told The Gleaner last Thursday.

examining the issues

Reid explained that govern-ments in the region had used funding from development agencies to build on the gains identified in case studies such as those captured in the book Developing Sustainable, Green and Inclusive Agricultural Value Chains in the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands.

The book documents the findings of two reports commissioned by the ACP/EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Development with funding from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. The nine case studies of value chains implemented in seven Pacific and Caribbean states in 2012 review a wide range of factors affecting value-chain development in the two regions.

The book and workshop are just two elements of the road map for sustainable development in this particular area, which has been the subject of study and collaboration between various development agencies and governments over many years. Now, the business specialist is convinced that the time is right for serious long-term commercial investments in these areas, which have traditionally been underserved by Caribbean entrepreneurs.

He explained: "What the workshop did in a very subtle way was to reinforce the need for certain interventions as it relates to particular crops but more so the need to have that strong linkage with the tourism market within the Caribbean. One of the gaps we have identified based on past experiences is that projects never have what we call value-chain facilitators on the ground in a sustainable manner. These are people who understand the development of food value chains and could work with producers, buyers, and service providers, specifically the bankers, in ensuring that there is this real tangible link between production and markets."

Already in the region

In fact, according to Reid, these experts are now in a number of Caribbean countries carrying out the necessary due diligence to properly inform and influence business operators to invest. He disclosed that these specialists, who will be in place until the end of the year, will use the time to assess relevant aspects of the marketplace in specific areas of group dynamics, finance, information systems, and marketing.

The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, he disclosed, is investing in a cloud-based revolutionary information marketing system, which though not confined to agricultural data, will go a long way in complementing the anticipated regional value-chain renaissance and which is being tested in Antigua, St Lucia and The Bahamas, with Jamaica also to be included.

Reid told The Gleaner: "So the intention is, as we develop the chain in terms of how the farmers and the buyers interact, we have parallel to that the information system, and we are trying to put in place innovative financing mechanisms so farmers don't have to wait 90 days to get paid by hotels and other customers."