Tradition vs Innovation of Caribbean Agriculture

Mikhail Amsterdam

Traditional Farming in Guyana. Photo Credit: Mikhail Amsterdam

“Will small and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s) be able to compete?”

The increasing demand for Caribbean products has led to innovative approaches in resolving agricultural issues in the region.

Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago are the leading producers and exporters, and while it is important to note that they lead the region in these areas, technological development has yet to reach the region’s small and sedium-sized snterprises (SMEs) at an affordable cost.

According to the Foodand Agriculture Organisation’s Sub-regional Coordinator for the Caribbean, Dr. Lystra Fletcher-Paul, “small and medium-scaled enterprises (SME’s) in agriculture invest more than many Governments”. Mr. Wil Pineau of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, highlighted that many solutions to ease the impact of chronic problems can be found through innovative technologies, a perspective which can benefit many Caribbean farmers.

21st century farming is filled with technological advances; solar energy, mechanized harvesting, GIS/GPS mapping and remote irrigation and drainage.

However these advances require high capital investment, specialized personnel and large developmental areas.  It is no wonder that a growing concern for the “traditional Caribbean farmer” wishing to take part in this “new age development” exists.

The “traditional Caribbean farmer” can be categorized as small or medium sized, they account for over 60% of the food produced by the region and are funded primarily through micro-financing and credit extension services.

Little value added activity is done resulting in poor returns on investments as well as ‘economic slavery’ to loan agencies and financial bodies. How do we expect traditional Caribbean farmers to embrace innovation when it comes with added struggles and financial ailment?

Regional alternatives to global technological advances might be one way of combating this phenomenon.

Countries like Cuba and Belize have revived traditional farming method to deal with modern problems; contour farming practices, the application of bio-pesticides and enhanced selection and breeding programs have cushioned the financial consequences of new technology in these countries.

As Caribbean people it would be “unpatriotic” to allow innovation to reduce “traditional farming” in the region.  Small farmers can be an important source of unprocessed, uncontaminated and unmodified food, which is highly valued in developed countries.

Despite these advances which seem to be too high of an investment cost the region’s stakeholders still face the same chronic problems.

Caribbean agriculture is highly dependent on manual labour; social systems and political structures are built on this practice, and innovation in its most basic form is aimed at reducing labor cost and downtime.

In contrast modern agricultural farms operate more efficiently with less effort, resulting in reduced employment rates and minimal job opportunities.

Granted, innovation has allowed for faster production and harvesting combating exponential population growth, climate change impacts and global food standards, agricultural innovation also challenges SME’s to be more resilient, creative and profitable.

So I ask the following, should we be innovative at the expense of healthy, traditional and wholesome food?

Should we allow large agricultural corporations to control the Caribbean food industry?

How important is innovation when it clashes with tradition?


Copyright © 2016, CTA. Technical Centre for Rural and Agricultural Cooperation

CTA is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.