AS I SEE THINGS: Revisit models of economic development
SINCE THE WORLD of 2008/2009, Caribbean countries have found it increasingly difficult to generate, much less sustain, any significant rates of economic growth that could ease some of the challenges faced particularly on the fiscal side.
That problem is compounded by the fact that many of our countries still rely to a large extent on economic activity in tourism and commodities. But the truth is that key issues such as employment generation, food security and income redistribution remain critical areas holding back progress in our small states.
Given the way in which we have attempted to reconfigure our economic landscapes over the years, it should be clear to all that urban development has taken the lion share of the limited resources we have generated domestically as well as secured externally, leaving in the process, very clearly underdeveloped rural communities.
The time has therefore come for us to revisit the models of economic development we have practised for so long by making rural transformation a cornerstone of our quest for growth. After all, a development strategy that focuses on our rural communities has the potential to generate much needed employment in many neglected areas of our societies as well as address the issues of income redistribution.
Perhaps, more important, such a strategy provides a golden opportunity for agricultural development to take its rightful place in the generation of economic growth alongside our vital tourism industries.
But if agriculture is to be given such prominence, the way forward for this crucial sector has to be based on several strategic initiatives that involve: (a) Targeting high value-added niche markets for high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables, spices and herbs (b) Strategic alliances with regional and extra-regional partners who can offer appropriate modern technology (machinery, planting, nurturing, reaping and packaging techniques) which can quickly raise labour productivity and hence farmers’ incomes and agricultural workers’ wages; access to distribution networks of niche markets; agro-processing of food products of high quality and value; industrial-processing of agricultural output manufactured into cosmetics, toiletries, medicines, supplements, as well as products used in industries for other purposes; and developing inter-sectoral linkages between agriculture and tourism, in particular.
The goal in all of this is to systematically move agriculture up the “food chain” so as to reap most of the benefits which others now take for themselves, from commodities that our countries grow. An example of this is the astonishing range of high-value products manufactured worldwide from things such as cocoa, nutmegs and mace, all of which we produce right here in the Caribbean.
What needs to be appreciated is that food will become more expensive and, even in some instances, scarce given, for example, the growth in world population.
Taking a systematic and scientific approach to agriculture rather than putting all the countries’ eggs in the tourism basket will be both a good food-security policy as well as a strategy for achieving full employment, earning more foreign exchange, saving additional foreign exchange, and, arguably, more important, boosting rural incomes and rural development, both of which can lead generally to enhancing national income along with its equitable distribution countrywide.
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