(by Kwesi Isles)
The region’s coconut industry needs to be overhauled if it is to realise its full potential with replanting and re-organisation being key issues. This is what participants at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture heard on Monday.
These were among some of the issues was highlighted at a two-day workshop looking at developing a road map for the industry.
Guyana’s Agriculture Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy said one of the problems facing farmers was the reliance on coconut varieties which had been around for decades. This was an act, he insisted, needed to be changed. Additionally, he called for the coconut industry to be organised along the lines of the sugar and rice industry to ensure it gets the kind of attention needed.
“Some replanting has started … but they are doing so with the same mistakes that we made 50 years ago because as it turns out the coconut variety that you need to produce good coconut water may not be the right coconut variety you need to produce good coconut oil.”
The Minister said research was therefore important and that had to be shared to ensure farmers pursued correct practices.
According to Dr. Ramsammy, the “ad hoc” development of the industry could no longer continue. Coconut represented one of the priority agriculture products in the region and should be treated as such, he added.
“We in Guyana and throughout the Caribbean have an opportunity to organise coconut the way we had sugar organised, we grew varieties that gave the best yields,” Dr. Ramsammy said. “This road map will be a useless road map if it does not consider organising the industry along the lines of those successful industries in this region.”
Meanwhile, CARDI Director Dr. Arlington Chesney noted that moving planting materials around the region was still a difficult endeavour and he suggested that they may have to start certifying laboratories instead of plants.
CTA Director Michael Hailu urged the participants to be practical in their decisions for the road map so that they could identify the immediate issues to be addressed under the current round of EU funding.
“I think it is very critical that we come up with very specific, low cost approaches for something we can do together in terms of building networks at the regional and national levels and moving the whole thing forward.”
He also called on them to discuss the institutional mechanisms that would be necessary to implement the recommendations that may be beyond them.
Hailu noted that there were people from various sectors at the workshop which sometimes made consensus difficult but he urged that they focus at arriving at concrete results.
A comprehensive EU-ACP study on the issues, challenges and opportunities facing the industry was also presented at the workshop. The all-day event continues on Tuesday at the Guyana International Conference Centre.