Water/energy efficient irrigation systems; waste management; high-value agribusiness; sustainable land use practices; waste-to-energy; and wind and solar energy for farms.
Though its contribution to national economies has dwindled over the past fifteen years, agriculture is of vital importance to the region. In more recent years, the issue of food insecurity, in the context of dramatic escalations in international energy, commodity and food prices coupled with a global economic downturn, has raised the issue of agriculture on national agendas. Caribbean countries are especially vulnerable due to their high reliance on imported food. There is an urgent need to plan for and implement a new approach to agriculture in the region which embraces sustainability, innovation and an entrepreneurial drive.
A review of the food trade balances in the region indicates the scale of the problem. Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture noted at a CARICOM/FAO food policy and security workshop in 2010 that two decades prior, the Caribbean region accounted for more than two percent of the world’s agricultural trade, with a net agricultural trade surplus of US$3 billion. By 2010, the situation had reversed with a less than 0.3% share of international agricultural trade and a trade deficit caused by an annual food import bill of over US$ 3.5 Billion.
Opportunities in sustainable agriculture
Agriculture in the Caribbean is still largely a state-influenced activity. Governments play a large role in the operation and management of agricultural activities and enterprises, particularly in relation to crop and stock breeding, fertilizer and pest control inputs and marketing. Accordingly, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is currently collaborating with CARICOM governments on an initiative to ensure that all fifteen member states have food and nutrition policies and action plans in place by the end of 2013. This development will set the overall policy stage for allowing entrepreneurs to maximize opportunities in the sector and the CCIC will be in a position to help facilitate an increase in sustainable agriculture technology use in the overall agricultural sector and to increase the involvement of innovators and entrepreneurs in the sector.
There are some excellent examples of potential opportunities for agriculture in the Caribbean that have relevance to the CCIC objectives. One is Market Movers in Trinidad and Tobago. Like most Caribbean countries, T&T imports huge quantities of food - over US$700 million annually - because the local agricultural sector has declined as a contributor the nation’s economy. However, the cost of many fresh food items tends to be high for two reason, (i) poor and erratic local availability (due to a lack of modern production systems, low productivity, poor production scheduling, and a lack of effective value chains) and (ii) the high costs of imported fresh products. Market Movers has set up both protected cropping environments and also contract grower relationships to supply high quality, high health, low or no-chemical spray, fresh and processed produce to T&T customers through a combined online portal and home delivery system. This entrepreneurial business is making an impactful contribution toward climate change mitigation because it is increasing locally grown food supplies, improving resource use efficiency and reducing the use of chemical inputs. In addition, by delivering door-to-door using a single delivery driver and vehicle, they have reduced the number of kilometers individual consumers would have travelled if each had used their own vehicle to purchase from a ‘high street’ produce retailer, market, or supermarket.
Other examples of entrepreneurs developing business models which have positive benefits in terms of climate change include Goodfellow Farm in The Bahamas (high productivity, ‘hurricane proof’, improved local food supplies, import substitution, and largely chemical free mini-green production using simple media based hydroponic growing systems); the Bellevue Growers Cooperative in Saint Lucia which has developed a 25-acre organic vegetable production unit that produces more profit than from the entire area cultivated by the cooperative’s 200 grower members (improved local food supplies, import substitution, reduced chemical usage, environmental enhancement); The Grenada Chocolate Company which has resurrected a number of abandoned cocoa estates in association with owners in Grenada, gained organic certification for them, developed one of the world’s top four award winning organic chocolates, which is also rated as being carbon neutral, and delivers the product to the UK by sailing ship to avoid transport related environmental impacts; and Jamaica Exotic Flavours & Essences Co. Ltd. which is using lower quality ‘reject’ fruit and vegetables to produce value-added processed products (improved local food supplies, import substitution, improved resource use efficiency, value adding).