The cost of manufacturing in Barbados, when compared to other Caricom countries, is high. The difference in currency values of countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Guyana when compared to the Barbados dollar provides greater challenges to our manufacturers who want to access the European and North American markets. Do I think all is lost because of the foregoing? Most certainly not. Does this mean we cannot compete against the cheap goods coming in from our neighbouring territories? Again, definitely not.
The agro based products produced in Barbados, most often are, of a very high quality. The base market here is relatively small and most manufacturers of agro based products are also small. The second fact determines that we would have difficulty servicing very large orders. When we bear in mind that these large orders are accompanied by request for low prices we recognise the second prong of the challenge. The first prong being, the aforementioned high cost of manufacturing.
Innovation and the targeting of the upper end of the market, both at home and abroad, is the way to go for our agro industrialists. In the case of innovation; we need to take what we grow and create exotic gourmet type products. These products must be well packaged and properly marketed in the niche that will bring the highest price. Remember, earlier I pointed out that our production levels are relatively small. Often there are gluts of vegetables and these vegetables are either sold at a loss to the farmer or ploughed back in the field. An example of this innovation I speak of could be a joint venture of sorts between the farmer and the processor to produce a new and exciting product. One such product which comes to mind is a spicy version of pickles and relishes. The primary ingredient in these products is cucumber. One could add typical Caribbean spices to the blend which makes this product and, voila, a Caribbean twist to some well known items. Has anyone thought of producing a Dijon Pepper Sauce? What about revisiting the yam and potato flake idea? What about blast frozen vegetables and, so called, ground provisions? How about chutneys from different fruits and vegetables? These are but a few questions whose answers could make a huge difference in the level of agro industrial activity.
The condiment market internationally is huge and growing. The demand for the exotics, especially in the area of sauces and seasonings, is rapidly expanding. The Jamaican ‘Jerk’ products have found a very profitable niche in Europe and North America. The rest of us in the Caribbean can “piggy back” on this breakthrough and target the mainstream markets in these countries. It will call for a concerted effort by all parties concerned. We must also change the way we have been approaching these markets and step up our game so to speak. Agencies like the Barbados Investment & Development Corporation will have to recognise that we cannot use the same approaches and expect different and/or better results. The kind of funding and assistance that is given to Tourism by Government must also be given to manufacturing in general and agro processing in particular.
The agro industrial sector in Barbados is well placed to make meaningful contributions to our foreign exchange earnings and also to import substitution. The linkage to the tourism sector is obvious. Hotels and restaurants must be encouraged to partner with the agro industrial sector in a greater way than they currently do. More dialogue between these sectors is important if a symbiotic relationship is to be built. Can the hotel guest order a glass of golden apple juice with their breakfast? If not why not? Simple planning and the intent to push locally produced products is all that is needed. Yes, there will be logistical challenges initially but, if the will is there by both groups, these challenges will eventually be minimized or disappear all together.
When a tourist steps off of the ship in most Caribbean islands they are greeted with a wide range of products of that particular island right in the port. Jamaica is, again, a classic example. Why does the agro industrial sector not have a meaningful presence in the cruise ship terminal?
The agro industrial sector is alive but not well. It will take a brainstorming session by all of the players to come up with the corrective medicine. The government, the farmers and their representative body, the manufacturers and their representative body and the tourism players and their representative bodies need to form an ACTION group to determine the way forward. This group must be “lean and mean” not a large cumbersome group bogged down in bureaucracy.