AGRICULTURE IS VITAL by Basil Springer

“And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” – James 3:18

In last week’s column we beseeched the social partners to unite under the leadership of the new Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. Now, we wish that the youthful energy in the new Cabinet of the twin island nation infuses the entire Caribbean. This is indeed a gargantuan task but let us make a start with the agricultural sector.

People are our most important resource and have to be fed. Agriculture is a science which guides farmers as they cultivate the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food and other products for local and tourist consumption. Agricultural goods can be grown for export, to reduce the massive agricultural import bill and contribute to net foreign exchange earnings.

Locally grown agricultural produce is more easily quality controlled and gets from farm to table in a much shorter time than imported produce. Many locally grown products reach the consumer at a cheaper price than imported products and selected products provide our full complement of nutrients.

Why then do we not have a comprehensive coordinated programme for agricultural development in the Caribbean rather than a piecemeal approach by territory. This approach has not produced a sustainable solution in the last 70 years since the Report of West India Royal Commission, also known as The Moyne Report, was published at the end of the second world war. Many billions of dollars of national and donor funds have been wasted.

Although not formally trained in agriculture science, I have been associated with the full spectrum of agriculturalists and the agricultural sector for my entire professional life and I am still involved in one way or another.

Having been trained as a Mathematician, Statistician and Operations Research scientist in Jamaica, Wales and at the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London, I interned as a Biometrician at Rothamsted Research, formerly known as Rothamsted Experimental Station, which is the longest running agricultural research station in the world, providing cutting-edge science and innovation for nearly 170 years.

The establishment of the Biometrics unit at the Faculty of Agriculture at University of the West Indies at St. Augustine Trinidad (1968) was my first professional assignment and it is still in operation today under the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute. I was President of the Caribbean Agro-Economic Society, the Barbados Society for Technologists in Agriculture and am currently Chairman of the recently launched Global Business Innovation Corporation which encapsulates the key components of the Caribbean Food Business Innovation Revolution.

In addition, I was an avid vegetable gardener at least twice in my life, have been involved in many agricultural development consultancies and given advice to many post graduate agricultural students over the years.

Eat Bajan Day this year is on October 9. This is managed by the Graham Gooding Trust of which I am a Trustee. Quite a lot has rubbed off from these experiences and if I do not know any specific detail in agriculture at least I know who to ask.

My primary interest is in shepherding businesses to sustainable success. Agriculture is a business and my continuing interest in the sector is to contribute to its success at the enterprise, national and regional levels.

I propose a simple 5M business system construct as follows:  The Model (Idea/innovation) is at the Core (Corporate Governance);  The Money (outlay) provides the Stamina (Investment Finance); The Marketing (sales) is the Life (Marketing); The Methodology (shepherding) is the Growth (Operations); and the Mind-set Change (shepherding) inspires sustainability (People Development). The high inherent business risks in the agricultural sector are associated with the above five business systems.

Corporate Governance risks – 3: (1) there is little or no focus on management meeting culture to structure the foundation of the business; (2) failure to observe legal and environmental laws reflecting society’s priorities or industry mandates; and (3) deleterious impact on the natural resource base.

Investment Finance risks -2: (1) little or no focus on credit rating culture; and (2) low equity input by the entrepreneur in the business.

Marketing risks – 4: (1) little or no focus on customer centric culture; (2) no proactive aggressive market led sales and distribution strategy; (3) unrealistic sales projections especially for start-ups, re-births, spin-offs and scale-ups; and (4) unpredictable prices and markets.

Operations risk – 7: (1) little or no focus on profitability culture; (2) use of low technology; (3) variations in output due to weather, pests, disease and value chain logistics/timing; (4) praedial larceny; (5) lack of crop insurance; (6) outdated ICT and administrative systems; and (7) weak net cash flows.

People Development risk – 4: (1) little or no focus on productivity culture; (2) poor time management practice; (3) the lack of positive affirmations of passion, perseverance and patience among personnel; and (4) selection, training and motivation issues centered around family members and employees.

These 20 risks are among the challenges that have to be addressed as we take on the agricultural sector.

My firm belief is that there is no shortage of agricultural entrepreneurs in the Caribbean with the potential to grow the industry but we must establish an adequate user-friendly agricultural investment fund and secure the fund by a systematic shepherding process to mitigate the above risks as humanly possible.

Let us develop a healthy, robust agricultural community that lives right with God and enjoys its results. Let us do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with mutual respect, dignity and honour.

(Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. – CBET. His columns may be found at www.cbetmodel.org and www.nothingbeatsbusiness.com.)

 

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About Andrew Stoute

Dr. Stoute obtained his PhD in Plant Biology from the University of Reading in 2009 working on photoperiodic control of flowering. He then took Post-Doctoral Researcher position at Rothamsted Research working on the developmental factors around parental regulation of seed size in oilseed rape (canola). He joined the staff of the West Indies Central Sugar Cane Breeding Station in 2011 as the Plant Geneticist, responsible for performing crosses from extensive germplasm collection to provide clients with improved sugarcane varieties. He also develops systems and programs to aid in the selection of the best parental material for those crosses.

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