(FDI MAGAZINE) – Saboto Caesar, the minister of agriculture, forestry, fisheries and rural transformation for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, tells Courtney Fingar how the country is turning its abundant natural resources into a national growth strategy.
Q: Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has some obvious potential in the fisheries industry that has not yet been fully realised. How do you plan to develop the industry, and to what extent can the opening of the Argyle International Airport aid the development strategy?
A:Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is blessed to be an archipelago of islands. Because of our seascape, we have a significant number of people who are engaged in the fishing industry. Prior to the opening of the Argyle International Airport on February 14, 2017, we did not have a direct link to international markets, to be able to move fish and fish products from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. We had been exporting through Trinidad and Tobago, but many investors had significant losses from time to time, and this was definitely discouraging.
However, with the Argyle International Airport and the direct link to international markets, where we now have the airlift capacity for 110,000 pounds [50,00 kilograms] twice per week, we have seen a significant engagement by the private sector nationally, and an increase in our attractiveness to foreign direct investors in the fishing industry.
The government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has moved towards the privatisation of the fishery centres. In several of these centres, the local investors who would have obtained the leases have already paid their investment by having joint ventures with foreign direct investors. This is going to take the fishing subsector to a whole different level and we expect to see significant growth over the next five to 10 years in that sector.
Q: How about the agricultural sector? What types of foreign investors are you seeking for that?
A: In the agricultural sector we have two major investors already in cocoa and coffee. It is very important as we advance in this sector that we promote agri-processing. We currently have the largest production base in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States for root-crop production. This is now sold in its raw form, but we would like to see it processed and packaged here. In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, you have the value addition of exporting. Similarly, we can do it for our root starch. We have the most expensive starch in the world and it is in high demand. Once we improve in the packaging and marketing of it we can definitely reach new markets.
We are also spending significant resources on the livestock sector, particularly for the improvement in capital production and activity. We will embrace an investor who will be able to build a state-of-the-art abattoir so that we can have the special cuts that we need for consumption, particularly in the tourism sector, and for export to intra-regional markets.
Q: Can agriculture and tourism thrive without damaging each other?
A: Within the context of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, it’s the perfect fit. First, you have farmers who are willing and ready to produce fruits and vegetables for the consumption of our guests. It is very important to note that we produce at some of the highest standards globally. A lot of the commodities that we produce are organic. Some of the other producers do not produce organic products. We minimise the use of pesticides and herbicides so the products are very healthy.
Also from the standpoint of agri-tourism, there is an important marriage where a visitor can have an intimate connection with our fruits and vegetables, seeing where the beans come from to make their chocolate, encountering what a nutmeg is like and how it can be used. This dovetails as well with the culinary arts. So I think for a holistic experience we can have a very beautiful marriage between agriculture and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.