Hungry for FDI: Agribusiness project a boost to Caribbean
Food security remains a serious concern for Latin America and the Caribbean, even as a recent economic report highlighted agriculture and agribusiness as a major attraction for regional FDI in the future.
The Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) said the region has the capacity and the resources to support much more agricultural investment, and reported that agricultural FDI had already risen in countries with large arable land masses like Guyana and Belize.
The region needs institutions to wield technological resources to bump up crop yields, sustain land productivity and renewable water usage, and push production to projected highs, the report said.
The recent launch of a pilot project that takes the challenges of global warming into account as it strategises on boosting the region’s food security is a step in the right direction.
The Improving Caribbean Food Security in the Context of Climate Change project was launched in Trinidad on May 14, in collaboration with the Caribbean Agricultural Research & Development Institute (CARDI), the Netherlands-based food and environment-conscious University of Wageningen and the Trinidad and Tobago Agribusiness Association (TTABA).
The three-year project will target Belize, Barbados, St. Kitts & Nevis and Trinidad and Tobago to ensure that these countries propagate the best conditions for specific marketable crops to thrive while making superior planting material available to regional farms for production. Sweet potato, corn and pigeon peas are among the crops to be developed.
The pilot countries were well chosen. Much of Belize’s FDI growth in 2012 came from agribusiness. Investments in sugar cane came up to nearly US$100 million, and the country has a clear strategy for developing the agri-sectors.
Agribusiness and food security are also high on the investment agenda in Trinidad and Tobago; the country needs to reduce its annual US$4 billion bill for imported food.
Barbados also wants to reduce its food bill, and has put priority on processing starchy staples like cassava and breadfruit. St. Kitts & Nevis has the advantage of large areas of available land and a labour force skilled in labour intensive agricultural management.
The ECLAC report mentioned that transnational corporations are already extensively involved in profitable Latin American agricultural industries. This is not surprising given the general macroeconomic stability of the region in the face of the ongoing problems in Europe and the slow pace of recovery in the US and elsewhere.
However, it said that there is need for increased agricultural trade infrastructure and increased FDI to bolster low public sector investment, making a link between the opportunity to boost regional food security and solid economic attractions for regional FDI.
Norman Gibson, the project coordinator for the Improving Caribbean Food Security pilot, said that the project will benefit potential agriculture investors by allowing them to mass produce improved plant varieties with bio-secure pathways for consumer delivery.
“The project will also provide a platform for the development of commercial, mobile applications (and other content-rich info-packs) that allow producers to plan and adjust planting dynamics (varieties, timing and crop care) in response to changing weather, climate and soil environment variables,” he added.