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Is there a future for Caribbean agriculture? (Part 2)

CARICOM oversees the agricultural policy for its members

PART TWO of Lyndon Mukasa's exploration of the future of Caribbean agriculture.

Is the threat of economic decline exaggerated?

With that said is the decline in agriculture really the crisis that it is being presented as? Is the spectre of evolving into failed societies, as Dr Kenny Anthony proclaimed in 2012, really a possibility?

On one hand we can look at the decline in agriculture as a crisis that threatens the long-term economic development of the Caribbean. But doing so would require one to ignore the significant contributions of other economic sectors and to overlook the inherent weaknesses that are inbuilt in to the Caribbean agricultural industry that could keep the region from reaching full economic potential. An example of this is the export model that the region has operated under since independence.

This model has been built around a few agricultural commodities such as bananas, sugarcane, rice and cocoa that have been subject to price fluctuations in the past. Combined with regional competition for foreign markets, is the Caribbean agricultural industry economically viable to maintain?

Moreover despite the losses in agricultural revenue the region has gained signi cantly in other industries most notably in the tourism sector.

Tourism in the Caribbean contributed over $17.9 billion in terms of direct contribution to GDP which accounted for 4.9 per cent of the region’s GDP in 2016.

Job creation is increasing with over 725,000 jobs being supported in the region and projections of an increase of up to 945,000 jobs by 2027.

Perhaps it could be argued that rather than marching towards failed state status the region is instead changing how it manages its economy.

Increasingly the Caribbean is investing its economic output in other areas.

According to the World Bank up to 70 per cent of the region’s inhabitants are now self employed.

Interestingly the rate of unemployment created in part by a decline in the agricultural industry has become an impetus for the early stages of economic diversification with the rate of start-up companies increasing since the beginning of the 2010s.

Even though the region still has to catch up in terms of competitiveness and innovation, many countries are starting to show promise, such as Jamaica which is becoming a country of interest for software and app companies due to the number of students that are engaging in software coding and business.

Grenada recorded the highest level of product creation in 2013 and CARICOM is looking at ways to fund and support start-ups among its members.

The bigger picture
In some contexts it could be argued that as the Caribbean continues to diversify its economies and adapt to the developmental challenges of the 21st Century, the decline in agriculture is not necessarily an unusual stage in its development.

For much of the developed world a certain degree of agricultural production underwent a decline as labour sought newer industrial jobs in the cities during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Within the Caribbean however it is important to be aware that the stages that countries in the developed world such as Britain, France and Germany went through are different from what the Caribbean currently has to deal with.

Moreover despite the decline in agriculture among the developed countries mentioned, agriculture as an industry never completely disappeared. In fact, among those countries their governments prioritised funding and investment in technology that increases competitiveness and efficiency through the EU-led Common Agricultural Policy.

Caribbean governments by contrast only spend 0.9 per cent of the GDP on average on subsidising agriculture.

It is therefore imperative that while agriculture will continue to decline for the foreseeable future, the Caribbean should not abandon it in favour of other economic sectors.

Lyndon Mukasa will be exploring these issues on the economic development of the Caribbean in greater detail on Sunday, April 20 from 2pm to 5.30pm at the Croydon Supplementary Education Project (CSEP). For more details please contact CSEP on 0208 6867865 or 07495 605522

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