(by Nazima Raghubir)
Transportation is currently one of the most pressing issues facing the Caribbean in its quest for agricultural development. Along with a number of other issues, transportation, is one of the main reasons preventing the region from feeding itself with its own produce as well as earning revenue from exports.
International Consultant John Lewis said the transportation continues to be an especially challenging one. He was at the time making a presentation to the Food and Agriculture Organisation and Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture Workshop on hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in the Caribbean. The workshop is aimed at examining a strategy for eradication of issues affecting Agriculture in the region and is being held as part of Caribbean Week of Agriculture in Georgetown Guyana.
Lewis explained that the imbalance in trade has had an impact on transportation costs. There has been a trend of high imports and low exports.
“So if you bring a transport enterprise, an aircraft or a ship or whatever, it comes in and you see what it comes in with, full, but you not seeing what going out, now who pays for the going out leg, it means therefor that your price has to be at such a level to take account of the unused capacity for that vessel to operate.”
Low yield has not been encouraging to those in the transportation sector according to Lewis. He also noted that most carriers move away from the transport of cargo because of low yield.
“Particularly in terms of agricultural produce, food, …the cost of plaintains, per pound, an aircraft deals with weight, weight is a premium, for you to transport a pound of plaintains, and they give you an air tariff you can’t pay, because, it is costing more than it is costing you to produce…”
Plans to export produce in the region have been affected by low supply which can be a deterrent to continuing business between producers and those in the transport sector
“I know for instance an exporter who had come to Georgetown and said I want to export peppers, but when the guy ask how much pepper can you produce, the guy (producer) said I can produce two bags of peppers, the guy said I want a container of pepper…perhaps you need to have a system or organisation where by you can have first of all consolidation by sea or air.”
Consolidating cargo is an option – says Lewis, consolidating of cargo could see similar or different produce being prepared at a particular time for export.
Low production and seasonal supply of some produce cannot pay for the costs related to tariffs and port chargers.
“there are security charges and handling charges, insurance, issue of inspection to ensure that the cargo is in fact genuine stuff that is moving… that’s another reason the carriers have been shying away from particularly non-traditional shippers, because the difficultly you have with narcotics, every day you read about it”
The cost of fuel too cannot be ignored Lewis told the workshop.
“Transport like in any other industry has to operate both efficiently and has to have positive returns…now nothing in the transport sector, particularly the operators of vessels and aircraft are in fact produced in the region and the operators face the same kind of cost element which you complain about, fuel and fuel of course, is a major component of transport.”
Transportation along with sanitary and phytosanitary barriers, trade liberalisation issues and rising cost of production are all problems which combined ensure the Caribbean continues to depend on imports. Already the Region’ import bill has been pegged at US$2billion annually while the Caribbean can do little to raise its export bill. Exporting Agriculture produce which was seen as an engine of growth has been struck by many forces.