Caribbean private sector urged to play key role in farming

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Nov 5, CMC – The private sector in being urged to play a greater role in agriculture in the Caribbean as governments help to guard against market failure.

Addressing the 2nd Caribbean Agribusiness Forum in Barbados on Thursday, Mikael Barfod, head of European Union delegation to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, said public funding is unlikely to be sufficient to address access to credit, the provision of risk capital and guarantees of other risk sharing mechanism in the agricultural sector.

“Farming is a private sector activity and therefore the private sector should assume a larger role in guiding it, and, most importantly, in investing in the sector,” he told participants at the two-day event, being held under the theme “Strengthening the Agrifood Sector and Expanding Markets”.

The event forms part of the one-week Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum being held here until Friday.

“And this is why forum like this one is important. They provide partners from public and private sector with opportunities to look for innovative ways to create synergies and complementarity and ensure maximum efficiencies of the investment in the sector,” Barfod said.

He added that discussing successful stories of agri-business interventions in the regions should help them understand the needs of the private sector, in term of business environment and implement the necessary reforms for investment to take place.

The diplomat said the tourism industry and supermarkets should offer a growing and reliable market to local production and spoke of the creative initiatives that to partner with chefs that are being discussed.

He noted that strengthening the agri-food sector and expanding markets are very high on the agenda of the European Union priority list in the region for many reasons.

Among these, he mentioned eradicating hunger, which he said, though very low is still present in the region.

“We all know that agriculture is the most powerful tool to address hunger.”

He further said agriculture is the most powerful tool the region possesses “to increase food security and food sovereignty in a region crippled by a steadily raising food import bill; to make the best out of a robust and growing tourism sector; to revive the rural economy, support wealth creation and value addition; and most importantly, to provide jobs for the youth who are increasingly being left on the road side with all the consequences that we know all too well.”

To these ambitious goals, the EU’s strategy is to support a professional productive, innovative, market-oriented sector, Barfod said.

“In other words, we believe that supporting agri-business and value chains will contribute to reduce hunger and poverty and to increase production, wealth and job creation.”

Speaking at the same forum, Director of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA), Michael Hailu explained the focus on agri-business.

He said in the last few years, there has been much stronger recognition from governments and development partners “that unless the private sector is proactively engaged in this dialogue on development, especially in the context of agriculture, we can’t really make much progress.

“If agriculture is treated as a social sector, not really as a business, we are going to have this vicious cycle of poverty, farmers not producing enough more than to feed themselves and so on.

“So, basically, having the private sector sit around the table is absolutely critically.”

Hailu, however, noted that everything cannot be left to the private sector, adding “there are market failures; small failure need support.

“So there is a need for development and policy intervention to bring smallholders into the market in partnership with the private sector.”

Hailu said several partnerships have been taking place globally and within the context of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) and European Union partnership to prioritise private sector development.