“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” – Romans 8:15

Fear is an unproductive emotion. We must release our fear and activate our faith.

Twenty two years ago, the West Indies Commission led by Sir Shridath Ramphal published a 592-page document entitled “Time For Action”. What has been the outcome? Earlier this month it was reported: “We have paused enough; it is time for action. We have retreated enough; it is time to advance.” This was the charge newly-elected prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, delivered at the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community. What is different this time around?

Well last week, across the Atlantic and onto the continent of Africa at a Nairobi, Kenya conference there was a ray of hope. More than 700 hundred delegates attended from 80 countries. This conference, focussed on the agricultural sector, was primarily sponsored by The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), headquartered in Brussels. The theme of the conference was “Revolutionizing finance for agri-value chains” which harmonises with The Intra-ACP Agriculture Policy Programme (APP) which is about to get off the ground in the Caribbean. I was honoured to have been asked to attend.

After a two-hour caucus among ourselves, there was a Call to Action from a united 20-member strong Caribbean delegation coordinated by the Trinidad and Tobago Office of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).

The APP is being managed by three implementing partners, namely IICA, the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), and the Caribbean Community Secretariat (CARICOM). IICA is the lead implementing agency for one of the three technical components of the APP, which is entitled “Improve Market Linkages to Contribute to Agricultural Enterprise Development”. This component has three specific lines of intervention, namely: (1) Improving the entrepreneurial, marketing and organizational capacities of small producers, including women and youth; (2) Development of domestic and regional market information and intelligence systems to support small producers/entrepreneur involvement in value chains; and (3) Improved financing schemes to support the development of commodity value chains involving smallholders.

IICA is partnering with The Caribbean Agri-Business Association (CABA) which is the Caribbean Region’s first agricultural association; and The Caribbean Farmers’ Network (CAFAN) which is a regional network of farmers’ organizations/groups and non-governmental organizations in the Caribbean.

The composition of the Caribbean delegation included experience and youth and covered a wide range of disciplines grouped as follows: (1) corporate governance, agricultural policy, trade policy and management; (2) social media marketing, marketing, public relations; (3) farming, agro-processing, mobile applications, importation, distribution, retail; (4) training and shepherding; and (5) micro-finance, private equity, loans, crowd funding, Diaspora funding, credit unions, warehousing, factoring of receivables, donor agencies, development banking and partnerships with governments.

Participants hailed from Barbados, Curaçao, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

It was particularly gratifying to hear two youngsters from Jamaica and Trinidad make their mobile application and social media marketing contributions with confidence, aplomb and flair.

The delegation met as a body and committed to the implementation of the Call to Action by mobilising resources which have already been negotiated, and executing the plans accordingly in a tight management environment.

There were six major opportunities to benefit from the conference: (1) sharing and making contributions in an interactive dialogue format; (2) learning how things are done in other parts of the world and how one can improve; (3) recognising that there are systems in the Caribbean that are ahead of systems in the rest of the world; (4) networking among participants at the conference; (5) building strategic alliances; and (6) socialising and imbibing from other cultures in the world.

The camaraderie among us Caribbean colleagues was excellent and one continues to ponder what can be done to foster Caribbean Unity in a sustainable way for the benefit of us all. In an African environment where country populations are in the millions rather than the thousands, Africans are amazed to the point of wonderment about the over management of the CARICOM region. Six and a half million people managed by 14 Prime Ministers and 240 Ministers, when the city of Lima Peru with eight million people is managed by a Mayor.

It was interesting to note that in bilateral discussions at the conference there is an underlying current promoting the private equity model as a means to foster enterprise development as distinct from the traditional loan model. The challenge in Africa, as it is in the Caribbean, is to foster the public private partnership to the point where we can structure and develop the equity fund model as a catalyst towards sustainable economic development.

We can draw from a Daily Word this week: “Anytime I face a situation that may cause anxiety or uneasiness, I pray. Praying helps me release my fears and open to the love of God. Praying calms my mind, soothes my emotions, and frees my spirit to accept the good that is mine to receive. I cannot be afraid when I am filled with the love of God. God’s all-providing love surrounds me and each person for whom I pray. Where there is faith, there is no room for fear. In God’s love, I am faith-filled. I am fearless!”

Let us move forward in faith to build the Caribbean region one agricultural enterprise after another while at the same time addressing the nutritional needs of our people, increasing our foreign exchange earnings and reducing our food import bill.

Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. – CBET. Columns are archived at www.cbetmodel.org and www.nothingbeatsbusiness.com.