On May 27 and 28 the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) and International Trade Centre (ITC) hosted a two day consultation workshop with more than 50 coconut industry stakeholders at the George Price Centre for Peace and Development, Belmopan. Mr. Ian Sayers, Head Product Sector Development, of the ITC traveled from Geneva, Switzerland to oversee and facilitate discussions on the targeted revival and expansion of Belize’s coconut industry, assisted by Mr. Maurice Wilson, Head Resource Mobilisation Unit from CARDI’s head office and Dr. Compton Paul, Coordinator of the CARDI/ITC Coconut Program. Mr. Anil Sinha, CARDI’s Country Representative in Belize, gave the opening address and chaired the opening ceremony. Mr. Roberto Harrison, Chief Agriculture Officer, Ministry of Natural Resources and Agriculture (MNRA) gave the feature address.
Participating were members of MNRA, Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA), Belize Bureau of Standards, Beltraide, Foreign Trade Directorate, Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), International Regional Organization for Health in Agriculture (OIRSA), Development Finance Corporation (DFC) as well as many coconut stakeholders representing local coconut producers and processors, small and large, and the media.
The European Union (EU) has contracted ITC to oversee the implementation of a 4 year, 3.5 Million Euro project in the CARIFORUM coconut countries of Belize, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago. CARDI will partner with ITC in these efforts. CARDI is especially responsible for the agricultural productivity component of the project. One of the first phases of the project is to engage with national stakeholders to formulate road maps for market led development of the products sector, as well as to agree on implementation plans. To achieve this CARDI and ITC hosted value chain development road mapping workshops in the various project countries including Belize.
Since 1980’s there has been a decline in coconut production in Belize and worldwide, mainly due to loss of international market due to promotion of negative health impacts and problems from pests and diseases. However, the market situation has changed in recent years. Coconut and its derivatives are now regarded as being beneficial to human health and wellness. There was a 700% increase between 2008 and 2014, in the world demand for coconut products, especially green coconut water, milk, coldpressed virgin oil, fibers and cosmetics. Belize and the other CARIFORUM countries are keen to meet some of those market demands. Every district in Belize has coconut producers and processors, and the opportunities in this sector are large for both domestic and export products. A coconut growers and processors association is expected to be formed shortly. Tasks for that association will likely include identifying current coconut farmers/processors and setting up a communications framework, encouraging new farmers and processors to join the sector, identifying and locating financing, transmitting market intelligence and business model information, extension assistance in partnership with MNRA in identification and selection of commercial coconut varieties, nursery standard setting and expansion and training in many areas including commercial agronomic practices, changes to working practices and processing for value-added products, marketing and lobbying for supportive government of Belize (GOB) policies.
The attendees at the consultation vigorously voiced their opinions and concerns, which were recorded on wall charts, aimed at exposing the known and anticipated strengths, weaknesses, risks, needs and directions of producers and processors of both current and future coconut industries. With the professional facilitation of ITC and CARDI, the giant charts slowly fleshed out and appeared on the walls of the George Price Centre venue to give participants a comprehensive snap-shot of the coconut value chain from markets to supply. Broad participation of the private sector, GOB, various non-government organizations (NGOs) and statutory bodies at this critical planning stage, will ensure that the actions and decisions for policies, priorities and strategies will be tailored to specifically suit Belize’s directions and needs.
Participants selected persons to join a National Coconut Stakeholder Platform (NCSP), which will coordinate and communicate with farmers, value added enterprises, support services, NGOs and GOB. Mr. Anil Sinha of CARDI will serve as the Focal Point for the project and serve as the liaison between the MNRA and NCSP. Elected members of NCSP include: Mr. Eden Pop, Mr. Manuel Trujillo, Mr. Simon Willacey, Mr. Lester Muralles Cabral, Mr. Jose Trejo, Mr. Gabriel Flores, Mr. Victor Castillo, Mrs. Elsie Ellis, Mrs. Beth Roberson, Dr. Dowlat Budhram, Mr. Efrain Rejon, Mrs. Dona Dougall Sosa, Mr. John Rivero and Mr. Francisco Gutierrez.
ITC will coordinate the sector development priority activities mentioned above with the platform, starting with association-building, market intelligence and an integrated database/Internet and mobile applications tool to improve communications with rural coconut farmers and processors. The platform will also join a network of industry development platforms from the other 8 coconut countries of the project to share in the sector development information and experiences.