Research, infrastructure key to revitalising coconut industry

–agriculture workshop hears

As the Caribbean takes steps to revive its potentially profitable coconut industry, stakeholders are urged to make the industry a robust one, which experts say will depend on knowledge sharing, replanting of old plantations and improved varieties.

Dr Arlington Chesney, Executive Director, Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) told stakeholders that regional coconut production had slumped over the years because scientists back then blamed coconut oil for some health problems. Since then,

Associate Minister for Agriculture, The Honourable Lautafi Fio Selafi Purcell,Samoa; Mr Michael Hailu, Director, CTA; Dr Arlington Chesney, Executive Director CARDI; and Honourable Minister of Agriculture Sione Sangster Saulala, Tonga (CTA photo)
Associate Minister for Agriculture, The Honourable Lautafi Fio Selafi Purcell,Samoa; Mr Michael Hailu, Director, CTA; Dr Arlington Chesney, Executive Director CARDI; and Honourable Minister of Agriculture Sione Sangster Saulala, Tonga (CTA photo)

it has been proven to be “totally untrue,” he said, according to a press release from The Netherlands-based Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Development (CTA).

Dr Chesney made these comments in his opening remarks at the workshop on ‘Coconut Industry Development for the Caribbean: Towards a Shared Vision and Road Map’ at the 12th Caribbean Week of Agriculture, being held in Guyana in partnership with the CTA. He said the Caribbean should develop its own plant material by certifying laboratories rather than plants coming from outside the region.

“Without a new injection of plant material, we would be doing the same old thing the same old way,” Dr Chesney said. He also said the “Caribbean should turn to India for coconut harvesting technologies.”

Meanwhile, Minister of Agriculture Dr Leslie Ramsammy warned that the Coconut Industry Roadmap would be useless if steps are not taken to organise it in a manner similar to the rice and sugar industries. He also noted that coconut water is a real threat to the beverage industry and posited that it was time for old coconut plantations to be replanted with varieties suitable for optimum production of water, oil and other products.

“If we are going to make this industry a robust industry, then we have to start with the infrastructure and the plantations,” he said. Ramsammy also called for a research-driven industry and recommended that the Caribbean tap into fertilizer producing nations such as Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela to “help solve the fertilizer problem.” The minister also identified pests and climate change as challenges in the industry.

Guyana has established a focal point on the coconut industry with assistance from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA) the Food and Agriculture Organisation and Mexico. CTA Director, Michael Hailu hoped that the workshop would see the sharing of experiences among the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Ocean coconut producing nations.

“We want to make sure that we respond to the needs of the ACP countries (African, Caribbean and Pacific) especially in the area of coconut growing,” he said. According to Hailu, a key was to ensure that stakeholders are involved in the discussions as a critical step towards ownership of the needs assessment titled “Development of the coconut Industry in the Caribbean” by Landell Mills Consultants. He also said it was important to “come up with specific low cost building of national and regional networks and then look at a medium term approach and discuss the institutional mechanisms.”

The seminar was co-hosted by the CTA, CARDI and the University of the West Indies. This is the first time ministers and other officials from Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, the Dominican Republic and the European attended the CWA, the press statement said.

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