From left: Executive Director of the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), Barton Clarke speaking with President of the Barbados Society of Technologists in Agriculture, Dr. Andrew Stoute and Ian Gibbs, Head of Entomology Unit, Ministry of Agriculture at the forum for coconut stakeholders.

Coconut potential

Concerted efforts are underway to revitalise the coconut sector within the Caribbean.

According to Executive Director of the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), Barton Clarke, once successful, the region would be able to take advantage of the growing global demand for fresh coconut, coconut based by-products and value added products. He added that while the challenges may appear daunting, the opportunities for the coconut industry are limitless, and it is imperative that all stakeholders – producers, processors, government and the private sector among others, work together to get the sector going again, so it can become competitive and sustainable.

Addressing those attending the Barbados Coconut Stakeholders Forum, put on yesterday at the Savannah Hotel by the Ministry of Agriculture, the Barbados Society of Technologists in Agriculture and CARDI, he referred to a report by a United Kingdom based food and drink consultancy group, which indicated that the overall alternative water market had grown by 21 per cent in 2016 to a value of $2.7 billion and projected that the figure will double in size, reaching $5.4 billion by 2020. He noted that coconut water dominates that sector, accounting last year for 96 per cent of volume and 86 per cent of value. His comments came as he pointed out that coconut water is but one by-product of coconut that the region can capitalise on, among the others are coconut milk, coconut sugar and coconut oil.

With that in mind, he said CARDI is leading the charge to revitalise the sector, and together with the International Trade Centre (ITC), has started the Coconut Industry Development for the Caribbean Project, with funding from the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) to the tune of 3.5 million euros. Clarke revealed that the four-year project is going well, and has in fact been given additional 500 000 euros. Additionally, he said just this week he received word that two more countries, Barbados and Antigua, will be included in the project, which is now being executed in 11 CARIFORUM nations.

“We, under this project, are responsible for increasing the production and volumes of the right quality of coconuts, and improving the risk planning and access to risk management tools for small producers with particular reference to pests and diseases. Whilst the ITC is improving the co-ordination and co-operation across the region and improving access to advisory services and finance,” he said.

To date, he added, they have completed the value chain mapping of the coconut industry and are now mapping out strategies for the way forward. As he reflected on Barbados joining the project, he said that as steps are made to develop the sector here, it is imperative that surveillance systems are established to safeguard the sector against pests. He made the point while using the example of the sweet potato sector in Trinidad, which was affected by weevils, because their surveillance systems at the ports of entry and farms lapsed.

“So if you decide that coconuts are important to you then you need to put the mechanism in place to ensure that we don’t have a repeat of that particular example,” he said. (JRT)

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