Rising to market challenges
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Blades, Hayden. 1997. Rising to market challenges. Spore 67. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/48644
Mr Hayden Blades is an agricultural economist. As Executive Director of the Caribbean Agricultural Research andDevelopment Institute (CARDI) he has instigated a major restructuring programme designed to make CARDI more responsiveto the challenges...
Mr Hayden Blades is an agricultural economist. As Executive Director of the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) he has instigated a major restructuring programme designed to make CARDI more responsive to the challenges currency facing Caribbean agriculture. The Caribbean is at a cross-roads in the development of its agriculture. Here, the agricultural system was set up specifically to produce primary products for sale in protected European markets. It was not until Independence that attention was turned to increasing the output of food crops for the domestic consumer. Even so, the domestic food sector remained a very much smaller component compared with plantation crops. This formula is not one to guarantee success or indeed survival in the future. The initiative to institute change has been taken out of the hands of Caribbean countries by the liberalization of international trade that has been sign-posted by the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations. For the first time in history we are now seeing attempts to bring the trade in agricultural products within the confines of international trade rules. Indeed, even before the WTO Round was concluded members took the decision to liberalize trade in all tropical pro-ducts. Countries in the Caribbean region have been undergoing structural adjustment programmes, as have others elsewhere. Our programmes have included the necessity for the economic mobilization of our economies including the need to substantially reduce the protection previously afforded to agricultural crops both in terms of quantity restrictions and tariffs. This highly competitive situation, that has been so suddenly thrust on us, has resulted in the destruction of some of our domestic industries. For example, the poultry industry in Guyana collapsed within nine months of restrictions on imports being removed. Beef and lamb production from herds grazed under coconuts in Trinidad and Tobago cannot compete with meat landed in Port of Spain at subsidized prices from Europe. At this historical cross-roads we are going to have to institute a substantial transformation of our agricultural industries. We are going to have to move from a situation of fixed price markets for previously negotiated quantities, to a new era of new technologies to increase productivity so that we can market our commodities on an internationally competitive basis. In order to do this we will have to develop a new indigenous marketing industry, because we have no history or experience of marketing our products in the real sense of the term. In the past, quantities and prices were fixed and all that was left to arrange were transport and distribution. Now, we must conduct market research, identify niche markets, find new marketing partners, and create a whole new marketing infrastructure both physically and in terms of the people and skills required. We have to build a comprehensive market information system, and most critically of all, our producers must accept the challenge of producing a range of crops and products which are always going to be highly competitive in terms of price, quality and delivery. To service our farmers' new needs, extension services will have to change from their past emphasis on production to a new emphasis on marketing. This will require training and a change in mindset. How easily or readily will Caribbean agriculture change? Much will depend on the political commitment and priority accorded to agriculture in our countries and this will have a direct effect on farmer attitude and morale. To change production patterns and adopt new crops and techniques involves investment and risk; farmers will not accept the need for either without the support of good production and marketing advice and the confidence that they can be competitive. Precedents exist: Jamaica's Blue Mountain coffee has been branded and marketed successfully, and more recently, Belize has worked with the organization Fair Trade to develop a niche market for organically produced chocolate sold under the Black and Gold label. DEXIA, the Dominica Export and Import Information Agency, and the Agricultural Diversification Coordinating Unit for the OECS (Organization of Eastern Caribbean States) have experiences to share. The withdrawal of Geest from the Windward Islands banana trade now offers the opportunity for local initiatives. Some people still look to tourism, mining or industrialization as more attractive options for developing our Caribbean economies and all will contribute to a greater or lesser extent. However, agriculture will continue to underpin almost all our economies with some countries, such as Belize and Guyana, almost totally dependent. We have no choice in this matter. The Caribbean Heads of State, in their New vision for the Agricultural Sector, have accepted the need to develop agriculture on an internationally competitive basis: to develop appropriate human resources, and to negotiate a sensitive phasing out of currently protected markets and their replacement with viable alternatives. Our success will also depend on attracting some of our brightest young people to train for careers in agricultural production, marketing and advice. Throughout our history our people have met our challenges and I do not see why we should not do so again. we are probably in a better position now than ever before with the availability of better access to information and better educated and trained human resources. To forge an economically viable and environmentally sustainable agriculture to feed and provide income for our peoples is a major challenge but not an insurmountable one in my view. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CTA