By Dr Clayton Shillingford
Retired Plant Pathologist
Former Director of Research, Jamaica Banana Board and
Dupont Agricultural Products Development Manager
Greg Rawlins, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) in the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) tells Dominica news online competitiveness in the market should not be taken lightly.
A synopsis of his article titled ” Agricultural woes: building a domestic and international competitive sector is as below:
Finding agricultural products that can compete both on the domestic and international markets has been singled out as one of the major challenges facing the sector in the region.
Rawlings believes that coupled with all other hurdles like climate change and lack of private sector investment, the sector could plunge further into extinction.
Traditionally, agriculture has been one of the most important sectors within the OECS countries however Rawlins said development has pushed it aside in favour of other sectors like tourism. “Our cost and productivity must be looked at. We are facing threats of climate change. The issue of extreme weather conditions is having major effects on the sector,” he explained.
Rawlins said the agriculture sector needs serious public sector investments if it is to survive. “We need to be able to mobilize private sector investments. Governments in the region seem to have constraints where funding is concerned,” he said.
The sector in the OECS he said can become the food basket of their respective countries but he said in order to achieve that level of production, “all must be involved”. “We have a very high food import bill and the local production can replace some of those foods,” Rawlins said.
Rawlins is suggesting that governments find investors to boost production of food that are widely imported. “I believe we need to find those products and make arrangements to attract investors. We need to find mechanisms for our small producers to cooperate more,” he explained. He is also suggesting linking agriculture with tourism. “Not just in terms of food but to use assets in the agriculture sector as a tourist attraction…”.
It is also Rawlins belief that the sector should be made more attractive to “pull’ young people into the sector.
He said the use of new technologies and systems of production is one way. “We need to demonstrate to them that agriculture is a very profitable option available to them. We need to provide them with the necessary land and programs designed to support youth participation,” he said.
There have been complains that banks often turn away potential farmers because they do not think that farming is a viable business, or that land is a sufficient source of collateral. This adds to the perception that farming is not an attractive enterprise. All good points above, but agriculture unfortunately does not lend itself so easily to corruption and self enrichment whereas the other avenues are more enabling to corruption, e.g, tourism, selling passports, real estate.
Agriculture no matter in what form has tremendous benefits to the country, any country. It requires much more work, planning and investments. Leaders in the region, and specifically Dominica are more interested in less work, less planning, and more self enrichment for themselves and for their supporters like Parry Bellot, their erstwhile productivity constant who embraces low productivity and mediocrity and promote them as excellence. We must do better than that as a nation!