Diversifying crops for food and trade
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CTA. 2005. Diversifying crops for food and trade. Rural Radio Resource Pack 2005. Wageningen, The Netherlands: CTA.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/57462
Opinions from Dominica and St Kitts and Nevis about agricultural diversification, plus an FAO diversification project.
Diversifying crops for food and trade Suggested introduction: Across the Caribbean it is clear that agriculture needs to diversify. The loss of preferences in EU markets, for example, threatens the economic viability of traditional export crops such as sugar and bananas, and if farmers are to survive they will need to change what they grow, and how they grow it. So what are the options? One basic question is whether countries that traditionally import most of their food should be looking to increase the amount and variety of food crops grown on their own soil. Or should they simply grow other cash crops with strong export potential and sell these to fund continuing food imports? It?s a question that came under discussion at a recent conference focussing on food and nutrition security held in Belize. Susanna Thorp spoke to several participants about their vision of the future of agricultural diversity and trade, and how these link to the nutrition and food security of Caribbean people. In this report she begins by asking extension agent and agronomist, Richard Allport, about the situation regarding food, nutrition and trade, in his home country of Dominica. IN: ?Generally Dominica has always been considered..? OUT: ? themselves as well as trade internationally.? DUR?N 8?58? Back announcement: Sandra Plummer of the FAO ending that report on the links between crop diversification, income generation and supply of food in the Caribbean. Transcript Allport Generally Dominica has always been considered as a food secure nation in terms of its food balance. Generally we have exported more food than we have imported in terms of value. However over the last few years we have seen some deterioration in the food and nutrition situation because we have seen some declines in the economy. Thorp So why in particular has there been an impact on the economy, why has that been declining in the last couple of years? Allport I think the major reason has been the decline of the banana industry and the whole question of the WTO negotiations and the impact on our economy. We now have a very open economy and many times we have been flooded with cheaper imports. That has caused a decline in incomes to farmers and as a result it has caused us to have less disposable income. Thorp So what are you trying to do as an extension department to try and support farmers in this serious situation? Allport The most effect that we can have is to try to raise productivity among farmers so that they can increase incomes. But we also would like our production to be consumed locally and many times we bring up issues of protection. Under our WTO obligations we cannot protect but there still is a reason why we need to protect our farmers. Furthermore I think that if our farmers are not protected it means that our country?s ability to even purchase from outside in the long run is affected. So if the economy is totally destroyed our ability to import is also destroyed or compromised. Thorp And what about trying to diversify? If farmers have relied heavily on growing bananas in the past but this is not going to be a viable option in the future, what other options for growing other crops, perhaps more nutritional crops are there? Allport Well the options are always there in terms of diversifying to feed our population. That is why I consider us still food secure. But then our ability to export agricultural produce is always compromised. So I think that is where the resources have to be put. Do we really have a comparative advantage in terms of exporting to other countries out there? So I think those are the real issues, it is not just the ability to feed ourselves but can we diversify into other crops that we can export like we did bananas for so many years. Thorp And what about the issues of raising productivity, I mean how feasible is it to raise productivity beyond what you are doing already? Allport I think it is feasible. We really have to embrace science and technology. But sometimes - even under our WTO obligations - raising productivity requires infrastructure and sometimes people see the required infrastructure as subsidies and they ask us not to subsidise. When the developed world?s agriculture is highly subsidised both in the EU and in the US. So those are other concerns of ours. Thorp What about with policymakers, do you feel that they are doing enough to resolve the situation? Allport I think our policymakers see it, but I think many times our hands are tied in terms of the kind of resources that we can generate to make those changes. I mean we are a poor underdeveloped country striving to compete in the developed world. NARR In St Kitts and Nevis the government is already in the process of planning which crops it should prioritise, as it reduces its dependence on sugar exports. Jeffrey Berry, an extension officer with the Department of Agriculture, is concerned that this process is ignoring the capacity that the country?s own farmers have, to contribute to the national food supplies. Berry Yes we have to feed a nation, but are the people, the population, the farmers benefiting from feeding ourselves? Thorp Presumably they are not? Berry They are not because what is really happening is that when we set out to look what crops should we produce we are looking from a marketing point of view as to what crops can we produce competitively, not necessarily to feed our nation. So I think somewhere along the line we have to draw the line and to break a kind of equilibrium as to production first of all in feeding yourself, feeding up to at least certain basic commodities. Thorp Is there a possibility of being able to diversify so that farmers can grow some competitive crops but they can also be encouraged to grow nutritionally valuable crops too? Berry That is the approach we are trying to do because St Kitts is moving out of sugar right now. I think this year is the last year that we are producing sugar for export. So we are looking at a diversification programme. And I think this is the downfall of the whole thing: we are going about it kind of one sided in the sense that we are just looking at it from a marketing point of view as to what kinds of crops we can produce competitively. I think we have to look at producing other crops that are nutritionally beneficial for the nation, on a smaller scale, but I think that is an integral part that we have to look at apart from the crops that we are producing to be competitive. NARR While Jeffrey Berry stresses the importance of farmers growing at least some of their crops for domestic consumption, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation is currently running a pilot project to support farmers in production of some alternative cash crops. Sandra Plummer, a food security specialist with the project, which is operating in the 15 member states of CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic, explained how it is working. Plummer You know that we have a lot of problems in terms of especially sugar and banana because of the erosion of the preferences with the European Union. I think countries are now in transition, in terms of where they should go where they would not be so dependent upon those preferences. Thorp So what is the FAO pilot project doing to support farmers in this transition phase? Plummer The project actually is attempting to improve the productivity of these selected crops and it is basically cash crops with the potential for trade in what we call the non-traditional commodities which find markets in places like Canada, the United States. Especially in those areas where you have the West Indian diaspora who are accustomed to eating a particular type of food and they are willing to buy it. So there is a kind of niche market there. Thorp So what sort of interventions or technologies are you putting into place in order to support the growing of those crops? Plummer The technology that is being used is drip irrigation because in many countries they have a problem of water and the management of the water. Thorp So with having irrigation does this allow farmers to grow crops outside the traditional seasons? Plummer That is exactly the whole point because what happens is that I can give you an example of one village in a country where everybody grew the same kind of crop. So you had a glut during the actual reaping season and then between seasons you had a deficit in terms of availability of food as well as availability of income. So the drip irrigation actually helps to stagger the production throughout the year so that the troughs and the heights of the cycle will actually be reduced. So you get little blips instead of huge hills and valleys. Thorp So are there countries where there are particular lessons that would be valuable do you think that are already coming out of the project? Plummer The country which has gone the furthest and has actually started to reap the first crop cycle is Belize. And I think Belize has the advantage and it is probably the reason why they were one of the first countries to actually start the production, in that they already have an intersectoral Animal Health and Food Safety Agency which co-ordinates all the requirements from the Ministries of Health and Agriculture and Trade. And hence it makes it easier for persons who are wishing to export crops. They do not need to go to eight different departments. They can go to one agency and get all the paperwork and documentation done. Thorp So how do you see the way forward for the future? Plummer I think in terms of regional development, as in Caribbean region, we hope to get a framework of food and nutrition security strategy for the region, which would then be able to advise programmes and plans of action of the different CARICOM and CARIFORUM member states. I think part of the process is the establishment of, for example, regional databases, regional marketing intelligence, so countries can all access it and be able to trade amongst themselves as well as trade internationally. End of track.