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Address by Mr. Joseph Cox, CARICOM Assistant Secretary-General, on the occasion of the Caribbean Poultry Association’s 7th Annual International Technical Symposium

“… As we gather here in the vibrant city of Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, I remind you of Vision 25 by 2025 which was created to support the transformation of the Region’s food system to one that is sustainable and resilient, ensuring food security and improved livelihoods to the people of the Region. The poultry industry, encompassing the production of chicken, eggs, and other poultry products, holds immense promise as a catalyst for sustainable agriculture in the Caribbean. It is therefore worthy of note that sustainable poultry production is key to the attainment of Vision 25 by 2025.”

Hon. Colm Imbert, Acting Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago

Senator the Hon. Kazim Hosein, Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, Trinidad and Tobago and other Ministers of Government

Mr Hamant Mahabir, President of the CPA

Mrs Nisa Surujbally, Executive Director of the Caribbean Poultry Association

Members of the media

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen all

Good morning

It is my distinct pleasure to be addressing you today on the occasion of the Caribbean Poultry Association’s 7th International Technical Symposium and Exhibition on the topic of Strengthening Sustainable Agriculture in the Poultry Industry of the Caribbean. The timeliness of this exchange cannot be overstated as it occurs at a point in time whereby a unique confluence of events has created a dynamic for change and economic transformation which can only inure to the benefit of the business community. It is through this prism that I plan to discuss with you today the multifaceted role of the poultry industry in promoting sustainability, resilience, and prosperity in the region, and further explore how strategic investments and partnerships can unlock its full potential for the benefit of Caribbean communities. This is incredibly germane as private sector investment is considered a main driver of sustainable economic growth.

At the outset, let us acknowledge the critical importance of agriculture in the Caribbean context. Agriculture has been a cornerstone of Caribbean economies for centuries, providing livelihoods for millions of people, nourishing communities, and shaping cultural identities. However, the sector faces a myriad of challenges, including climate change, land degradation, water scarcity, and market volatility, which threaten its long-term viability and resilience. Also, the Agriculture sector has not been spared the negative impacts of the geopolitical conflicts of recent vintage which have led to pervasive logistics challenges within the global trade for commodities that have resulted in severe supply chain bottlenecks and delays. In this context, sustainable agriculture – characterized by practices that promote environmental stewardship, social equity, and economic viability – emerges as a compelling imperative for the Caribbean.

Indeed, as we gather here in the vibrant city of Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, I remind you of Vision 25 by 2025 which was created to support the transformation of the Region’s food system to one that is sustainable and resilient, ensuring food security and improved livelihoods to the people of the region. The poultry industry, encompassing the production of chicken, eggs, and other poultry products, holds immense promise as a catalyst for sustainable agriculture in the Caribbean.

It is therefore worthy of note that sustainable poultry production is key to the attainment of Vision 25 by 2025. Within this context, one of the foremost goals of sustainable agriculture is to ensure food security and improved nutrition for all. It involves private sector partnership, improvement in regional logistics and transportation, agricultural insurance, policy formation, removal of trade barriers, market facilitation, de-risking of the sector, increased R&D, more investment and the taking of advantages, which exist within the region’s food system and various value chains. The poultry value chain has been identified as one of these that a concentrated effort has been placed to cause this reduction of the Region’s food import bill by 25% by 2025. The approach, which must be pursued for the poultry industry, is one that focuses on promoting increased production and productivity through investment, digitization, and adaptation of new technologies. These investments must encourage interventions, which seek to amalgamate the efforts of the Member States and the private sector. In this case the CPA. There are existing and ongoing examples such as the corn and soya production in Belize and Guyana, and the offering of land for agricultural development in Suriname supported by an environment which will occasion the movement of agricultural workers throughout the Region.

Poultry products, such as chicken meat and eggs, are rich sources of high-quality protein, essential vitamins, and minerals, making them integral components of balanced diets. Poultry meat accounts for over 80% of all protein consumption in the Region.

Poultry also ranks as the highest imported meat product for the Region averaging a total of US $149.0 million. OECS Member States as a bloc account for US$54.5 million of imports with The Bahamas being the single largest importer amounting to US$30. 8 million. Belize and Guyana are self-sufficient in poultry production. However, the case of Jamaica is indicative whereas as at 2022 some 75% of the hatching eggs were imported with Jamaica Broilers being the only local broiler with a local hatchery that produces some 40% of their fertile egg needs. This is compounded by the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak in the US which has led to the severe challenges being faced by individual and contract farmers to source baby chicks for both their broiler and layer operations.

The Regional Chief Veterinary Officers are now developing the necessary response plan working with our stakeholders to ensure that we have a safe and steady supply of hatching eggs and day one chicks which are critical for the Region’s food security. The CARICOM Secretariat through its Agricultural Development Unit and CAHFSA stand ready to continue to provide the necessary support which will be needed to be able to tackle this real and present danger to the poultry industry. It is our intention to advance the draft regional Bio-Security instruments (Draft Model legislation) to assist Member States and other stakeholders to prevent, manage and respond to any such future challenges.

Notwithstanding, the figures indicate the importance of the sector to the Region and highlight the immense poultry sector investment opportunity that obtains. When the Region can feed itself, it protects communities from exogenous shocks and supports the growth and supports the expansion of other related industries such as the grains and the feed sector. Said another way there are real opportunities for the region’s private sector through the poultry industry. Research indicates that there currently exists a US$150M opportunity.

The poultry industry has provided a fillip to stimulate economic growth and create employment opportunities across the agricultural value chain. This is particularly pronounced in the rural communities of the Region. From small-scale farmers engaged in backyard poultry rearing to large-scale commercial operations involved in hatchery management, feed production, and meat processing, the poultry sector offers diverse avenues for income generation, livelihood improvement and inclusive growth.

One of the fundamental questions which continues to occupy the minds of policy makers across the region is how to increase the level of private investment while simultaneously improving Total Factor Productivity Growth (TFPG) thereby fostering sustainable economic growth over the medium term. This requires even more focused attention on improving the business climate and for the state to adapt to its role of facilitator in the new paradigm. This necessitates that transaction costs are minimized and that the requisite transparency guarantees which are associated with an optimized public policy are provided. Therefore, across the Region we need to be ever mindful of a burgeoning bureaucracy and a costly regulatory environment which create effective barriers to formal investments and are a disincentive to increased productivity and growth. Creating a supportive policy environment is vital for the growth and sustainability of the Caribbean poultry industry. In that regard, Governments must always remain mindful to formulate policies that encourage sustainable practices, prioritize food safety and quality, and enhance market access for smallholder farmers. By aligning policies with sustainable development, we can foster investment, innovation, and collaboration, leading to positive socio-economic and environmental impacts.

Indeed, it is the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), which was born out of the vision of our past leaders to create that enabling environment for Caribbean growth and development, which represents the overarching construct within which the Caribbean Poultry Sector now operates, governed by a set of regional policies and rules on human and animal health and trade that finds their basis in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC), which is the cornerstone of the regional integration movement.

The CSME, as a unified commercial and economic space, in its ultimate construct, is intended to assist in the achievement of Caribbean economic growth and development by promoting the more efficient use of the resources that are available throughout the Community. This includes our collective capital, land, labour, skill and entrepreneurial endowment, as well as the inherent comparative advantages that remain largely dormant and untapped, throughout the Region. The pursuit of the goal of a fully integrated space for trade and commercial activity is intended to fulfill the main objectives of the Community, as agreed to by the framers of the Revised Treaty, which includes the full employment of labour and other factors of production, better organization for increased production and productivity, as well as accelerated, coordinated and sustained economic development and convergence, among others.

Indeed, in developing the productive sector throughout the Region, the Revised Treaty gives us the further charge to pursue specific policies in order to achieve sectoral development. These include the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), with its aim of fundamentally transforming the regions agricultural sector to one that is market-oriented, internationally competitive, environmentally sound, accessible, nutritious, safe, efficient, productive, and diversified, among others. Similarly, the goal of the Community Industrial Policy (CIP), in addition to the pursuit of market-led, internationally competitive and sustainable production of goods and services, is to promote the enhanced and diversified production of goods and services as well as environmentally friendly industrial production, to highlight a few.

Sustainable poultry farming practices can mitigate the environmental impact of agricultural production and promote ecological resilience in the Caribbean. However, to ensure the poultry sector’s sustainability and resilience, the sector needs to be disease-prepared. Through initiatives such as organic poultry farming, rotational grazing, and integrated pest management, we can minimize chemical inputs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and enhance soil fertility and biodiversity. Constant biosecurity protocols, surveillance, and rapid response systems must be in effect to protect our flocks. We are all cognizant of the devastating effects disease outbreaks have on poultry farms and their impact on the livelihoods of poultry producers, processors and consumers alike. Furthermore, by implementing efficient waste management systems and utilizing poultry litter as organic fertilizer, we can close nutrient cycles and promote circular economy principles. By embracing sustainable practices, the poultry industry can serve as a model for environmentally responsible agriculture in the Caribbean.

The regional poultry industry must embrace innovation and technology to improve productivity, efficiency, and sustainability. Advances in genetics, nutrition, and disease management have transformed poultry production, resulting in higher yields and better health outcomes for their flocks. Precision agriculture, automation, and renewable energy can optimize resource use and reduce environmental impact. Through innovation, the poultry sector can unlock growth and competitiveness while minimizing ecological footprints. However, it is worthy of note that in the Region there is a paucity of institutions that support innovation, such as early-stage financing mechanisms, incubators, and accelerators. From the perspective of public finance, the limitations of fiscal space and the almost peripheral approach to Research and Development and technical extension services have proved to be a limiting factor for innovation.

It’s now an accepted fact that climate change intensifies extreme weather events in the Caribbean, affecting agricultural production. The poultry industry can enhance climate resilience by diversifying income sources and agricultural output. Compared to crop cultivation, poultry farming faces less vulnerability to climate-related risks. By integrating poultry farming with agroforestry, aquaculture, and other climate-smart practices, we can establish resilient agricultural systems that endure the effects of climate change.

Similarly, investing in education and training is crucial for poultry farmers and stakeholders to adopt sustainable practices and meet market demands. By providing technical assistance and vocational training, we can empower farmers with the knowledge and skills to improve productivity, animal welfare, and biosecurity standards. Meanwhile, promoting education about sustainable agriculture among consumers can raise awareness and drive demand for ethically sourced poultry products.

Ladies and Gentlemen, in order to achieve the requisite transformation of the Regional poultry sector, we must focus on re-tooling and reinvestment and providing greater access to affordable capital and financing, including trade financing, which will incentivize the entrepreneurial classes to undertake the risk that necessarily accompanies economic progress. However, the Region continues to perform sub-optimally with indicators for registering property, access to credit and the cost of finance being perennial problems. Indeed, measures to tackle high interest rates in the Caribbean could include improving the reformation of the respective Banking Acts to afford a greater degree of flexibility in terms of collateral requirements and a basic understanding of the intricacies of the Agricultural and Manufacturing sectors, which could potentially reduce information asymmetry and risk. This of course must be coupled with mechanisms and strategies geared towards the reduction of administrative costs. Collateral requirements as high as 185 percent of the total loan value/line of credit to obtain funding remain a major constraint to businesses within the Region. In fact, the rejection rates for loan applications across the region remain strikingly high on average, with (according to the IDB) only 18 percent of firms applying for credit being successful.

This creates the dynamic for the introduction of modern collateral reform formally dubbed Secured Transactions which allows for a more expansive yet informed approach to be taken with respect to tangible or intangible assets. Indeed reformation of the collateral mechanisms must include a strategy on the valuation of intangible assets. This represents another way to reduce the perceived risk for firms operating in the agricultural sector where security of tenure remains a significant challenge. But even for those entities that are well established and do possess tangible assets the problem still remains as financial institutions are loathe to accept as collateral, specified pieces of equipment that they deem to be too specific to an industry and which in the event of default they would be challenged in liquidating and thereby recovering their cost and exposure. Hence, borrowers are faced with requirements whereby they are asked for additional collateral such as real estate and other more traditional forms of collateral to secure equipment purchase.

High corporate taxes also retard business development wherever they exist, and also reduce the international competitiveness of firms. To treat with this the Region now has an issue of tax expenditures whereby the prolific use of various tax incentive programmes, now proves to not only foster negative externalities that discourage growth but also discourage the creation of quality jobs inclusive of the facilitation of horizontal inequities among firms. Indeed, the system of taxation has also become subject to what has been characterized as “exemption creep”, which essentially defines a situation where each exemption creates direct pressures for further exemptions, both upstream and downstream in the production chain. This is distinct from the concern that each exemption provides a general precedent for others. All these are severe constraints to market growth and viability.

Similarly, high energy costs and reliability remain a significant constraint to private-sector operations in the Caribbean. In fact, electricity costs in the Caribbean are nearly triple the average cost which obtain in the United States. With the exception of Trinidad and Tobago, demand for electricity in the region exceeds supply, and disruptions in the electricity supply are not uncommon.

Additionally, there is need for continued and greater internal market reform, major components of which are already underway with the review of the Common External Tariff (CET) and Rules of Origin (RoO), for which the Community will undertake a targeted sectoral approach. Greater efforts at trade facilitation and improving the business and commercial environment, more broadly, will also be needed.

Together, these initiatives will lead to greater levels of competitiveness, the improvement of which must represent a key goal for the Community, both within the wider Latin American and Caribbean region, as well as globally. Other critical issues that must be addressed in order to advance our economic development involve the need to improve our standards and quality assurance frameworks, and address the thorny and challenging issue of the proliferation of non-tariff barriers and measures that restrict or otherwise inhibit regional trade and commerce.

Finally, and ultimately, there is a need for a modern, responsive and coherent Community Industrial Policy that ensures regional economic and social cohesiveness as well as bottom up and inclusive growth. Such a policy must also take into account the advances made internationally through the fourth industrial revolution, and encapsulate best industry practices and standards that can elevate regional manufacturing and production to new and higher heights. Happily, I can report that the development of a Regional Industrial Policy is underway and is slated to be completed in due course.

In conclusion, the poultry industry in the Caribbean plays a vital role in promoting sustainable agriculture, resilience, and inclusive development. By utilizing the poultry sector’s strengths and adopting sustainable practices, technologies, and partnerships, the region can enhance economic growth, food security, environmental conservation, and climate resilience. Achieving this vision necessitates collective action and commitment from governments, farmers, businesses, civil society organizations, and development partners. Let us seize this opportunity to create a brighter future for agriculture and food security in the Caribbean.

Thank you.

14 May 2024

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