The annual Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) began on Monday with Barbados Agriculture and Food Security Minister, Indar Weir, underscoring the importance of the coconut industry to the economic development of the region.
But Weir told delegates that there are not sufficient coconuts on the island to meet the demand for coconut water, with the result being that some coconuts are harvested young.
“If we can increase production to such an extent to exceed demand for coconut water, there is further potential for income generation through export of water and development of value added products, such as oils, milk, flour, soaps and craft items,” he said.
Stressing the importance of the coconut industry and linking the consumption of coconut water to better health, Weir said coconut water is low in calories, naturally free of fat and cholesterol, and contains significant amount of potassium.
He said these characteristics could help in the battle against chronic non-communicable diseases and linked the sector also to the tourism industry.
He said the Barbados government along with Trinidad-based Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) had been conducting training workshops that assisted vendors with the necessary skills and best practices associated with harvesting, handling and processing with specific emphasis on health, sanitation and food safety issues.
CARDI’s Country Representative to Barbados, Ansari Hosein, highlighted that the global coconut industry earns revenue estimated at US$10 billion.
He said every year 70 billion coconuts were being harvested; 10 billion of those for coconut water consumption; yet the amount was not enough to meet the demand. Therefore, he said there is potential to grow the region’s industry and bridge the gap between the demand and supply.
The business potential, building capacity and value added that could be derived from the coconut industry within the Caribbean region was the main focus of the plenary session hosted by CARDI
Meanwhile, the president of the Healthy Caribbean Coalition, Sir Trevor Hassell challenged stakeholders to take up huge swathes of land in Guyana and Suriname to produce healthy foods.
“I challenge all in agriculture to pursue means of developing agricultural opportunities in Guyana and Suriname where there is readily available fertile land to grow and produce healthy local food,” he said, citing the need for the two Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries to become the “Caribbean NCD prevention food baskets of the Caribbean”.
The Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) is being co-sponsored by the Barbados government and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation, a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU).
Hassell said Caribbean stakeholders need to pay closer attention to the link between climate change, agriculture and NCD prevention in the creation of a healthier future.
He said NCDs will cost Jamaica approximately US$17.2 billion over the next 15 years which equates to 18 times Jamaica’s health expenditure in 2013.