Regional Agriculture Projects - Moving Past 'Painful' to Progressive Collaboration
- Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, September 2016 -
Discussing the proceedings of a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) for an agriculture project in the Caribbean probably sounds like a dry subject. It conjures up images of bureaucrats sitting around a table discussing policy and plans, hashing out process and determining progress. Frankly, that pretty much sums up the TAC for the Agricultural Policy Programme (APP) which took place in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago on 11 and 12 August, 2016. However, if one considers the history of agriculture development projects in the Caribbean, this particular picture becomes quite exciting. It is not that the meetings and topics were unusual, but rather the mix of company.
The Caribbean has a long history of agriculture development projects. From the Regional Food and Nutrition Strategy in the 80s, to the Regional Transformation Programme in the 90s and the Jagdeo Initiative in the early 2000s, many attempts have been made to strengthen this industry which holds great potential for the Caribbean. However, it has been difficult to get the most out of these initiatives without the involvement of every CARIFORUM country and representation from all interested parties in the Caribbean, from farmers and researchers, to private sector service providers, development agencies and governments.
The Caribbean action under the APP, which aims to reduce poverty and increase food and nutrition security in the Region through the support of smallholder agriculture, wanted to directly tackle this historical problem by bringing both countries and all interested agencies together.
“Despite some problems and hiccups, I am proud to say that the Caribbean has collaborated well in this effort. It is not normal,” said Jethro Greene, the Chief Coordinator for the Caribbean Farmers Network (CAFAN) in his closing comments at the TAC. “A few people had a vision for not just their own country. The only future we have is joint action. It is impossible for any country to think they can lead their own charge in agriculture and make it. We must work together.”
Mr. Greene’s comments were echoed by many others during the TAC proceedings including Dr. Inez Demon of the Centre for Agriculture Research in Suriname (CELOS). “This is a great sign of how far we have come,” she said. “I have struggled in getting CELOS to the table where there is usually only government officials. We are very, very grateful that we were able to play our part in the APP programme.”
Thirty-five participants from around the Caribbean were in attendance at the two-day meeting. Development agencies participating in the discussions included the CARICOM Secretariat (CCS), CARIFORUM, the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), Caribbean Exports, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Organization of Easter Caribbean States (OECS), the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA), and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA). Research institutions were represented by the College of Arts Science and Technology, Jamaica (CAST), CELOS, the Dominican Institute of Agricultural and Forestry Research (IDIAF) and the Faculties of Food and Agriculture, and Engineering from the University of West Indies (UWI).
The interests of small producers and enterprises were directly represented by organizations such as CAFAN, the Caribbean Agribusiness Association (CABA), the Caribbean Agricultural Forum of Youth (CAFY) and the Caribbean Network of Rural Women Producers (CANROP). Rounding out the attendees list were service providers whose presence in the value chain is irreplaceable, such as financiers, with representation from the Agricultural Development Bank of Triniad and Tobago.
Admittedly, the APP project hasn’t been without its challenges. When the project was signed in March 2013, the lead implementing partners and their collaborating agencies needed to establish trust and mutually beneficial relationships. Also, though direct beneficiary input was planned into the project it wasn’t necessarily factored into the project planning. While the need to engage beneficiaries in project design was well appreciated by the APP Implementing Partners, the choice then, was to either get a project approved within the final weeks of 2010 or miss the opportunity entirely for having an APP.
On reflection, Vassel Stewart, president of CABA affirmed that “we should have involved the stakeholders in the planning stage. It may have given the project a different start. We could have had greater clarity, linking the objectives with specific projects.” Notwithstanding this, he readiliy ackowledged that the project is showing great benefits. “The support we are getting is the most that my members have ever received”, he said. “It places us in a position that we can sustain ourselves”.