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Expert: Re-focus agriculture

Submitted by Monique on Sun, 05/04/2009 - 19:08

Best bet to buffer financial crisis
Dr Kris Rampersad. | 9:35 pm
Published: April 4th, 2009

The Summit of the Americas can move closer to its goals for human prosperity, energy security and environmental sustainability by focusing on agriculture, an international expert has stated. Ian Ivey, of the New Zealand-based NEXT Corporation, said in an exclusive interview that positioning agriculture as a central focus on the Summit agenda could help the region find innovative approaches to the financial crisis, while addressing the food crisis.

Million-dollar returns
His comments come in the wake of statements by US interests that the fifth Summit’s focus will be on the world financial crisis, and statements about the marginalised position of agriculture on the Summit agenda confirmed by the Summit Communications Co-ordinator, Felipe Noguerra, during a radio programme last week. Ivey is in Trinidad, spearheading a series of Caribbean-based foresight and innovation initiatives of the National Institute of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology and the Trinidad and Tobago Foresight and Innovation Network.

The initiatives have identified agriculture as one of the most promising “Best Bets” areas for economic growth and developing future-focussed high value enterprises based on local raw materials for export niche markets. Ivey proposed that the Summit utilise an innovative approach called strategic foresighting to move ailing industries from their traditional bases to ones that are more future-focussed and responsive to the long-term trends now shaping business and investment decisions.

“In many Caribbean countries, the people and governments have almost given up on agriculture—just at a time when the future has never looked rosier. The key is to move away from the commodity focus that has led to the sector’s decline and into areas that offer real value adding. “It is time to re-position agriculture as one of the most strategic portfolios and that can start with the Summit.” Among the new value-added areas for agriculture Ivey identified were those that feed the demands born through:

n increasing global focus on health and wellness;
n trends of “age defiance,” where people want to live longer, stay younger and continue to enjoy more pleasurable lifestyles and environmentally connected lifestyle;
n measures to reduce the high incidence of lifestyle diseases—obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“Developing the sector to meet the needs for prevention rather than cure-based healthcare along with customised natural and healthy foods, organics and nutraceuticals, incentives for adopting healthy lifestyles, improved food safety through labelling of ingredients and nutritional can add up to a 1,000 per cent to the current values being received from specific agricultural resources,” he said. Ivey believes a Summit focus could be the impetus for governments of the region to take plans to their Cabinets to explore new potential in the sector and develop valuable public sector support by providing infrastructure, education and training, incentives and assistance, and a functioning regulatory and intellectual property regime for the sector.

“Private sector initiatives could focus on such areas as: raw material availability, production and quality assurance; packaging and labelling; branding and marketing; value chain management and development; investment and entrepreneurship. “In this context, enhanced research and development activities—including the development of new products and plant varieties, rating scales, enhanced production processes—should be a priority concern for both the public and private sectors.”

Said Ivey: “The agricultural sector could develop at least US$250 million in new businesses built around 21st century agritech and biotech models—with a strong health and wellness focus. “This certainly widens the economic and investments horizon for not just Trinidad and Tobago, but the OAS hemisphere as a whole. “It suggests that a more dynamic and visionary approach and outlook to the Food and Beverage sector for instance, can launch these sectors to new heights on the global marketplace.”

Giving details of specific research into developing the potential in Trinidad’s unique Trinitario cocoa, for which 11 new varieties with patent potential have already been developed in Trinidad, along with the fact that the Trinidad-based international cocoa gene bank holds 20 of the world’s premium varieties of cocoa, he said: “The global drift away from mega-conglomerate-type enterprises to entities catering to ‘markets of one’ has particular advantages to an industry that is offering as unique a product as Trinidad cocoa.”

T&T’s cocoa
He noted that although Trinidad and Tobago’s cocoa fetches a premium on the international market, investment in and development of the local cocoa industry has been severely restricted because of the low status agriculture as a whole occupies among national economic priorities, which have focussed on energy production. “Trinidad cocoa is ripe for the picking by forward-thinking entrepreneurs who can exploit the full value of the crop on the world market, and this beyond the income that can be derived from patenting the 11 locally developed varieties of cocoa.”

The Niherst studies, which had inputs from a cross section of national players in research, business, education and training, and policy-making and included analyses of potential high value business niches, concluded that there was “tremendous opportunity for enterprises that respond to consumer demands for products that meet health and wellness considerations along with environmental sustainability.

“This can provide entrepreneurs and innovators with a real competitive marketing advantage in the global marketplace. It opens up a whole lot of opportunities that, if backed with science and biotechnologically-driven research, could add a substantial amount of value to the agricultural sector,” it stated.

Dr Kris Rampersad is a media and literary consultant.

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