Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) has issued a grant of US$600,000 to the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) for the financing of a three-year project to improve the production, processing and marketing of sweet potato across the Caribbean Community (Caricom).
For its part, CARDI will provide US$210,000 in counterpart funding to the project, which it will implement in Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
“The goal is to help identify emerging or potential opportunities for market development, expansion and enhancement of the regional sweet potato industry. The planned research, particularly the business case development, will serve as a catalyst for more strategic investment in the industry while the technology transfer will accelerate its modernisation,” CDB’s Director of Projects Daniel Best stated in a release.
He added that the projects will play a role in increasing food security among CDB’s Borrowing Member Countries whose food import bills have more than doubled over the past two decades.
At present, the production of sweet potato in the Caribbean lags behind other regions in the world. And while there have been improvements in the value chain, farmers and processors do not have the proper equipment to meet the demands of the modern consumer and address product safety standards and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) requirements for intra-regional trade.
The project involves market research, including value chain analysis to gauge levels of consumer demand, potential areas for investment and defining the existing gaps in the market. In addition, field research will validate climate-resilient varieties and genotypes, including strains that are high yielding, drought tolerant, disease resistant, and suitable for processing.
To share this information with farmers and stakeholders along the sweet potato value chain, CARDI will share videos and infographics on best practices in cultivation and processing of the tuber, as well as value-added product development.
“Increased production of local alternatives to traditional imports and value addition to provide healthy convenient options for consumers, can assist in reversing public health challenges and reduce the regional food import bill. Roots and tubers, particularly sweet potato and cassava, have been identified as areas of focus,” Best noted.
Like Best, CARDI Executive Director Barton Clarke believes that the region’s dependence on imported food to meet our daily subsistence is both worrying and unacceptable.
As such, the project presents an opportunity for Caribbean countries to make significant strides towards increasing their production of traditional commodities, placing them on the path to achieving food and nutrition security.
“Our vision is to have a food-secure region. We view this as a shared responsibility and CARDI remains committed to working with all stakeholders to improve the region’s self-sufficiency whilst exploiting our full production potential in a sustainable manner,” the executive director noted.
According to the CDB, the project aligns with its strategic priorities of supporting sustainable agriculture and rural development, as well as increasing food production in the Caribbean.
From a regional standpoint, the project also fits into the bank’s objectives, which include promoting sustainable agricultural production; supporting the processing and consumption of safe, affordable, nutritious, high-quality Caribbean food; improving the efficiency and competitiveness of targeted value chains; and promoting greater investments in the agri-food sector.