Regional farmers to examine options for transforming agriculture sector
ST MICHAEL, Barbados:
This week's inaugural Caribbean Pacific Agri-Food Forum taking place at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill campus in Barbados, presents an oppor-tunity for coordinated action, according to Michael Hailu, director of the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA).
Some 250 farmers, entrepre-neurs, policymakers, researchers and media practitioners from across the Caribbean, Pacific and countries, including Indian Ocean islands, are meeting in a number of workshops and other activities.
They will be exploring new ways of transforming the agri-food sector in the Caribbean and Pacific regions to set realistic goals for achieving food and nutritional security, job creation and overall economic growth.
Addressing yesterday's opening ceremony at Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination at the UWI, Cave Hill, the CTA director served notice that it would not be business as usual.
"For far too long, we have been talking about problems and challenges of agriculture. Conferences of this kind tend to focus on discussing problems rather than finding solutions. At this forum, we want to change the tide of pessimism to a vision of optimism and focus our energies on seeking innovative solutions and smart partnerships that will transform the agri-food landscape across the Caribbean and Pacific," Hailu declared.
The aim is to provide mutually beneficial solutions for farmers and agribusinesses, resulting from their working together in sustainable ways.
"We made a deliberate decision that the forum should centre around people and action, based on experience from the field. As a result, you will have the chance to hear from, and connect with, people who have real-life experiences and lessons to share about how private-sector entrepreneurship can become a game-changer for the agri-food sector, and for the small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs engaged in it," Hailu added.
The increasing vulnerability of the economies of small-island developing states in the Caribbean and Pacific regions to economic shocks and natural disasters dictates that if they are to move from a position of vulnerability and dependence to one of resilience, they must explore and implement new models
of economic development, according to Hailu.
"At CTA, we have seen time and time again that value chains and agribusiness, supported with an enabling policy environment, are the key drivers for transforming agriculture and fisheries in the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific )," Hailu said.
"At the end of the day, this is the strategy that is going to make a real difference to rural people, whether they live in poverty, or are able to make a reliable income and have a decent standard of living.
"Nowhere is this more true than in the case of young people. It is no coincidence that the average age of farmers is 55 to 60 years old in the ACP countries, and that young people find the idea of working the land less than appealing, with its long hours and hard labour. But farming needn't be like that ... ," Hailu said.
"During the next few days, we will be exploring some of the many exciting opportunities for using Internet platforms and mobile phones at all stages of the agri-food value chain, from production and processing right through to marketing and distribution. We need to show the young generation that there is a bright future in agri-food, and that they must be a part of it."