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How 's an agri-forum helping me?

Last month, Trinidad and Tobago's Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries launched the Trinidad and Tobago Agri-Investment Forum and Expo II from August 19-21, under the theme, 'Transforming Agriculture through Innovation and Investment', with the aim of revolutionizing the agricultural sector. It was attended by the regional heads of Suriname, Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana, and of course, the host country, Trinidad and Tobago.

Incidentally, this was the region's second initiative of this nature, coming on the heels of the inaugural CARICOM Agri-Investment Forum and Expo that was attended by seven regional heads. This historic event was held in Georgetown, Guyana from 19-21 May 2022, under the auspices of the President of Guyana, Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali, who currently holds responsibility for agriculture in the CARICOM Quasi-Cabinet. The primary goal of that initial event, 'Investing in Vision 25 by 2025', sought to lay the foundation to reduce the region's food import bill by 25 percent in 2025.

Fast forward to August 2022 in Trinidad and Tobago. What was the aim of this latter Forum and Expo? According to the website, "the Agri-Investment Expo will be a village style exhibition featuring more than 300 exhibitors from across the Agriculture Sector with a widely educational, interactive and engaging display of products, attractions and technological advancements". Some of these displays included a livestock barn with locally bred animals, petting zoo, farmers' market, various Agro-Processors, chocolatiers and Business to Business Rooms.

Sounds interesting, but you're probably wondering what does that mean for you? In a nutshell, here, in my view, are the three (3) major takeaways from these respective events:

1. More opportunities are opening in the agricultural sector- Whether you are a seasoned, established farmer, or a complete novice, more opportunities are becoming more available for the green-thumbed (or green-thumb minded) entrepreneur through greater regional/state intervention by way of funding, easier access to start-up capital, technological investment, opportunities to access agricultural lands, networking avenues, trading missions and a more aggressive, deliberate public campaign to not only buy (more) local, but also invest more local in this sector. Nevertheless, even if you don't farm (or fish), you can still become an active stakeholder in the agriculture value chain through the production and supply of innovative items such as cassava, dasheen (taro), plantain or green fig flour, not to mention the range of breads, cakes and pastries that can be produced from these various flour types or marketing your special brand of jam, jelly or other preserves. Or maybe you are skilled at inventing a new, more resourceful, efficient way of milling grain, or processing cocoa, or harvesting peppers or bananas, or providing logistics, transportation or marketing of products and services- the opportunities to showcase your talented ideas are right at your fingertips.

2. Food security is becoming a greater priority for the region- Perhaps this was a decision prompted by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict that has had a direct adverse effect on the global cost of wheat and fuel imports since February 2022, or maybe the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic (since 2020) has galvanized a more fervent desire among regional governments to become more sustainable food cultivators. Nevertheless, the idea of regional food security has been touted for generations. Our food import bill is arguably too high (currently estimated at US$6 billion), especially when compared to the individual and collective sizes of our populations. Likewise, it appears that at present, only Guyana, Belize and Haiti produce more than 50 percent of their own food. The cold, hard truth is that the more we import, is the more we are bound to be affected by any shift, however subtle, in the global supply-demand market, as well as the international exchange rate for US dollars, which puts our small economies in an even more delicate situation...and that is a reality we cannot continue to deflect from and sustain in the interim, as well as the long-term.

3. Our young people are our agricultural future- If we sincerely believe that our youth are our future, we have to lay the groundwork for gainful livelihood in the agricultural sector to become viable and enticing to those younger than us. We cannot continue to solely hope, pray and believe that they will be inclined to succeed their parents and relatives and invest their lives into a career that is neither personally rewarding nor financially sustainable. Yet, we cannot eat our cake and have it. Once we have collaborated with them to have laid the groundwork, we then have to allow them to lead- in their own way. Granted, we can choose to remain in the background or at the side, but we ought not to be at the healm of this transformation. Therefore, when the foundation, by way of providing the training, funding and opportunities is laid for them, we allow them to further flourish, by way of utilizing their skills, talent, ideas and innovation to solidify and gradually expand the influence of this sector.

The time is now, and the need is imminent for the Caribbean region to experience an agricultural Renaissance. Are you ready?

Keywords: LinkedIn Local Caribbean, agriculture, food, opportunities, security

P.S. Belated Happy 60th Independence Day to the people of Trinidad and Tobago (31 August 2022)!

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