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Quality, presentation, efficiency essential for survival of agricultural industry

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Tue May 6, 2014

In this issue we highlight the situation where agricultural produce exported to Trinidad has been sent back here for three consecutive weeks on quality grounds. This development represents yet another blow to an already battered agricultural industry.Still reeling from the multiple wounds inflicted by trade regulations, fierce competition, scale of production, quality issues as well as disease, pests and now drought, this is another misfortune which we can do without.{{more}}

Yet, in a sense, it is more than the proverbial accident “waiting to happen”. As the fortunes of the banana industry waned in the face of the challenges mentioned above, various warnings were issued that we should pay particular attention to the effects of trade agreements and quality standards on our agricultural export industry. Unfortunately not too many people took note as we continued the scramble to get quick returns, especially on the regional market.

Indeed, there were those who counterposed the regional market (Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados) as the solution to our banana woes, eschewing the writings on the wall. The arguments put forward were that European and global certification standards were an unnecessary burden being imposed on our farmers. Self-interest, short-term gain and even political opportunism prevailed.

The chickens are literally now coming home to roost. The widening of CARICOM to include Suriname, the signing of the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union, which embraces the Dominican Republic, plus trade agreements by individual CARICOM countries such as Trinidad and Tobago with Latin American countries have all created new dynamics, brought new market challenges for small, and still largely inefficient producers like those in the Windward Islands. Even within the Windwards, we face strong competition in terms of the quality, presenation and packaging of our exports.

Our stubborn insistence on business-as-usual and short-term gain has backfired. All the finger-pointing and blaming cannot obscure the fact that the market has changed, and continues to do so, in a manner not favourable to our small producers. The same factors which militated against us on the European and global markets are now right in our backyard. We are faced with huge odds which demand a radical reorganization of not only our agricultural industry, but of the manner in which we approach trade on the whole.

All around the globe the same scenario is being enacted, small, family-farming against global conglomerates. Survival of the small farmers and small producers is today a huge challenge, which requires innovativeness, as well as cohesion among producers, relevant marketing mechanisms and strategies. Simply put, we will not, and cannot survive with outmoded strategies, whilst ignoring the realities of the market today.

The competition in the UK and regional markets cannot be shut out from our home base. Soon, right here at home, the competition from more efficient external sources will invade our own market space, while we continue to tilt at the windmills. If we do not act now, not only will we lose external markets, but our own local market will be under siege too. We have to pay serious attention to the demands of the market and recognize that quality, presentation, efficiency are unavoidable if we are to survive.

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