Vibrant, Engaged Regional Private Sector Underpins Innovation, Investment in Agriculture – ASG Cox

CARICOM Assistant Secretary-General, Trade and Economic Integration, Mr. Joseph Cox
245

Remarks by Mr. Joseph Cox, Assistant Secretary-General, Trade and Economic Integration, CARICOM Secretariat, at the Launch of the 16th Caribbean Week of Agriculture, September 15, 2021

The Hon. Zulfikar Mustapha, Minister of Agriculture, Guyana

Dr. Julio Antonio Berdegué,   Assistant Director-General, Latin America Caribbean (LAC), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Dr. Manuel Otero, Director-General Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA)

Mr. Ignatius Jean, Chairman of the Board of Directors , Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI)

Mr. Errington Thompson, President, Agriculture Alliance of the Caribbean (AACARI)

Members of the Media

Distinguished Ladies and gentlemen all

It is my distinct honour to add my words of welcome to this launch of the 16th Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) appropriately themed “Transforming our Food Systems”. For me, it is extremely gratifying that we are at the stage where we can officially launch this event where the acronym CWA took on a parallel meaning and that is Complete Work Around. This meant that the entire business model had to be transformed, as we had to effect a strategic pivot to combat the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 16th Caribbean Week of Agriculture, which will be held from October 4 thru October 8, 2021, is historic as it will be entirely virtual and is founded upon the establishment of strategic alliances and partnerships involving both the public and private sector and including the International Development Partner community. In that regard ladies and gentlemen, the 16th CWA is not a CARICOM Secretariat idea, it is not an IICA idea, it is not an FAO idea, it is not a CARDI idea, it is everybody’s idea.

Although the theme for the 16th CWA is themed “Transforming our Food Systems” it functionally operates with two critical sub-themes: 1. Agricultural Production Resilience and Sustainability and 2. Food and Nutrition Security.  In this regard, whereas COVID-19 has exposed areas of fragility in our regional food systems including supply chain shocks, vulnerability to international price volatility, and input source supplies concentration, the pandemic has also created new market opportunities.  In fact, there is an old adage, which indicates, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste” and in this regard, I choose to view the incidence of COVID not as a market disruptor per se but as an accelerant for change. For example, whereas, as a Community we have been talking about Agricultural Insurance for decades, the Region is now reviewing a recent parametric insurance model that has been recently introduced in one of our Member States.

Opportunities abound, ladies and gentlemen! From the use of drones in agriculture in Belize, Anchor Farms in Jamaica, Smart Greenhouses in St Lucia to the use of the AgriExtApp – a pilot application designed for farmers in Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Guyana and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to ensure their access to remote agricultural extension services.  A vibrant and engaged Regional Private Sector underpins all these innovations and the attendant investment occasioning an increase in productivity in agriculture.  It is also buttressed by the political commitment offered by the 25 in 5 strategy, where the CARICOM Heads of Government have responded to a looming Regional food insecurity vulnerability by setting as a target, the reduction in our food import bill by 25% by 2025. This strategy was informed by data, which revealed that the Region imports approximately US$ 5 billion in food annually and if left unabated this will continue to climb with the potential of reaching US$6 billion in a few years.

These are all matters that will engage the estimated 100,000 persons who we reasonably expect to collectively benefit from the rich discourse on these topics by way of the 32 discrete seminars during the virtual showcase, while also being exposed to the exhibitions and virtual booths of more than 50 exhibitors. Exhibits will cover the many areas of agri-business, from primary production, manufacturing, agro-tourism, agricultural technology, agricultural education, agricultural retail and distribution. The technical webinars will also include discussions on African Swine Fever, Climate Change, Digital Agriculture, livestock production, Smart Agriculture, Finance, Intra Regional Trade opportunities and the Blue Economy.

This will be coupled with tantalizing titbits such as live cooking demonstrations as we strategically seek to reintroduce the Regional populace to not only indigenous foods and their preparation but also introduce to all, new techniques in preparing and presenting indigenous foods. We have decided to introduce this particular element as we have taken cognizance of the fact that with the cultural penetration occasioned by cable television and social media, entire generations are being socialized into the North American fare while remaining oblivious to the renowned fusion cuisine that is offered in the Region.  

To avail yourself of these offerings, we urge persons and potential exhibitors to register at CWA2021.caricom.org  so that you can be part of this transformative experience. Registering on the website will take you to the 10X Conference Platform, where you will complete your registration and from where the CWA will be live-streamed. The platform allows for networking, participation in the conference as well as the streaming of events during the week. It is worthy of note that with respect to the 16th CWA, there is also room for additional sponsors from any one of the five classes of sponsorship on offer – platinum, diamond, gold, silver and bronze.   In this regard, please feel free to contact the team here at the CWA Secretariat Shaun Baugh: Shaun.baugh@caricom.org; Cheril Collins: Cheril.collins@caricom.org; and Francola John: francolaj@gmail.com). 

The 16th CWA will also see the introduction of a CARICOM Farmer of the Year Award and a CARICOM Youth Farmer of Year award. This as we strive to enhance the visibility of those unsung heroes of Agriculture (male or female) who through innovation, stick-to-itiveness and sheer grit have weathered the vagaries of climate change, praedial larceny, varying pest and disease outbreaks among other challenges, yet continue to produce. This is particularly poignant when one takes cognizance of the market dysfunction that has long characterised our Regional agricultural sector. This ranges from market distortions, such as the dissonance that obtains whereby farm-gate prices are often low but the prices to the consumer are high and climbing, to scenarios where our Regional farmers are unable to compete on an international scale  because of market distorting subsidies that are brought to bear. Indeed from time to time, our Regional producers are forced to compete in a marketplace where their international competitor is pricing their offerings below the cost of production given these subsidies, which we are unable to match given the state of our economies.  In addition, these issues will form part of the discourse at CWA as it is imperative that the Region embraces E-Agriculture as part of the solution and explore opportunities to move up the value chain, transitioning from being mere primary producers to food processors. The week’s activities will end on a high note with a meeting of the powerful Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED).

At this juncture, we wish to express our sincere thanks to our key partners which have made the week possible and for the creativity for putting together this virtual format in line with our current circumstances.  We thank, in particular:

  •  The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
  • The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB)
  • The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA)
  • World Food Programme (WFP)
  • Caribbean Agri-Business Association (CABA)
  • CARIFORUM Intellectual Property and Innovation Project – CarIPI
  • Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS)
  • Caribbean Agricultural and Research Development Institute (CARDI)
  • Caribbean Agriculural Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA)
  • Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM)
  • Agriculture Alliance of the Caribbean (AACARI) and
  • The Government of Israel

As I conclude these remarks, I wish to leave a few additional general comments though related, as a further deposit of goodwill, as we countdown to this regional week of dialogue. Drawing from a book that we launched few short months ago titled “The New Normal: A Post-COVID Primer for Business”, the need for the strategic pivot of our business community, particularly the organisation of our Agricultural Industry is critical. This will entail the launching of new business models, highlighting the role of digital transformation in a people centric new normal. This is particularly germane as across the Region informality accounts for 40 to 60% of GDP, a significant amount of which emanates from the agri-food sector.

This ladies and gentlemen, is actually the New Normal for the Region. The threat of COVID-19 will in the not too distant future abate. However, a new normal that is founded upon innovation, adoption, and optimisation of new technologies to drive both product and price efficiency in Agriculture is here to stay. We therefore look forward to welcoming you to this the 16th installation of the Caribbean Week of Agriculture where through strategic partnerships and a notion of enlightened self-interest, we will collectively be able to effect the type of transformation required as the agriculture sector pivots to embrace the new normal. I therefore urge you to remember as you navigate the offering of the 16th CWA that Knowledge is Strength but Information is Power.

I thank you

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: