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Chesney leaves CARDI as a better equipped body to advance agriculture

The Region’s premier agriculture research institution is possibly in a better position than before to contribute meaningfully to aiding with related research in the region. Outgoing Executive Director Dr Arlington Chesney, who retires at the end of this year, in an interview explained that the Caribbean Agriculture Research and Development (CARDI) has been make partnerships with international partnerships putting it in a unique position to better help the region figure out its agricultural potentials. After seven years as the head of CARDI, Dr Chesney believes that he and his team has been able to attract respect in the region and internationally.

“We now have active MOUs with institutes in Africa, Asia, Indonesia, China, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Indian Agricultural Research Centre, also in Latin America and we have been able to access over EC 60 million in funding for research in the region.  We remodeled the financial and administrative procedures in CARDI, so it should be easier for my successor to manage the institute.”

Accessing funds that is critical to maintaining CARDI’s technical and expert research has not been easy. Since its establishment in 1975, funding came exclusively from Caricom member states and associate members. This has changed under Dr Chesney’s leadership.

“When I joined CARDI, the budget, 90% was provided by member states, now its 30-35%, so we have acceptability by a number of development agencies, we have acceptability by a number of research institutions, they come and ask us to partner with them and I don’t think that someone would come and ask you to partner with them if they don’t think you can bring something to the table,” he said.

Some five member states are in arrears Dr Chesney and his full report on CARDI’s finances is before the Council for Trade and Economic Development, Ministers of Agriculture who are meeting in Suriname. Dr Chesney said he would like to see a reduction in the arrears to the institute.

“That has an impact on ability to attract external resources, because if your parents cannot look after you, your god parents may not want to so this is one of the things we have to work on and I understand the situation that most of the member states are not well endowed at this time.”

And as Dr Chesney leaves CARDI, he feels at a more targeted approach to agriculture in needed at the national level in member states.

“If you look at the amount of GDP % bases, we still really don’t put enough, in Africa there is a target of 10% of the GDP that should go into agriculture and we started to see benefits of that, we don’t have that target at the moment in the region and you tend to find that in some countries, agriculture does not get the budgetary requirements.”

Dr Chesney, now 72 year old, headed CARDI for the past 7 years, he joked that it was time for him to retire.

“Most of you know I have bad knees and as the Executive Director I should be able to run around the fields and I haven’t been able to do that,” he said.

Barton Clarke, formerly of the Food and Agriculture Organisation is Dr Chesney’s successor.

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