Sustainable agricultural development in the Caribbean

Material Information

Sustainable agricultural development in the Caribbean some conceptual and process dimensions
Series Title:
International working paper series
Davis, C. G ( Carlton George ), 1936-
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Gainesville Fla
Food and Resource Economics Dept., Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida
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Subjects / Keywords:
Sustainable agriculture -- Caribbean Area ( lcsh )
Agriculture -- Economic aspects -- Caribbean Area ( lcsh )
Conservation of natural resources -- Caribbean Area ( lcsh )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent) ( marcgt )
bibliography ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (p. 27-28).
General Note:
Title from cover.
General Note:
"July 1992."
Electronic resources created as part of a prototype UF Institutional Repository and Faculty Papers project by the University of Florida.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Carlton G. Davis.

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University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Full Text
Y- + cl3




Carlton G. Davis

IW92-11 July 1992


T 0

Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida 32611



Carlton G. Davis

(Food and Resource Economics Department, University of Florida,
Gainesville, Florida 32611, USA)


The issues relating to sustainable agricultural development

and natural resource conservation are increasingly occupying the

centre stage in discussion of agricultural development strategies

in the Caribbean and at the world level. The economics profession

is increasingly becoming involved in the sustainable development

debate often from the perspectives of both a contributor to the

problem as well as to the solution (Daly and Cobb, 1989; de Bono,

1990; Longworth, 1991; Singh, 1991; Veeman, 1989; Goodland and

Ledec, 1987). Singh (1991) argues that the emergence of

sustainable development issues to the forefront of international

and regional debate is closely associated with the evolution of

'World View' perspectives or paradigms. The evolutionary process

started from that of the "Greek World View," through the "Medieval

Christian World View", the "Machine Age World View", to the current

"Biospheric World View". He argues that the Biospheric World View

*Paper presented at the Twenty First West Indies Agricultural
Economics Conference on, Sustainable Agriculture and Economic
Development in the Caribbean, Belize, Central America, July 14-18,
1992. This paper was written while the author was a Visiting
Professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Farm
Management, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine
Trinidad, during 1991-1992.

recognizes two basic laws of thermodynamics the Law of

Conservation of Energy and the Entropy Law. In so doing, such a

view explicitly recognizes the intrinsic interdependence between

the social and economic system on one hand, and the global

ecosystem on the other hand. Furthermore, the paradigm holds that

the socioeconomic system is linked to the global ecosystem via a

series of interdependent biospheric subsystems, including land,

water, atmosphere, flora and fauna.

If the Biospheric World View represents the current

conventional wisdom regarding man-nature relationship, some credit

must be given to the so-called Brundtland Report (World Commission

on Environment and Development, 1987) for one of the most cogent

articulation of the basic premise of the argument. Indeed, the

widespread concern about the sustainability of human activities

appears to be more than a passing fad. Longworth in his 1991

presidential address to the Twenty First International Conference

of Agricultural Economists argues that there has been a permanent

shift in public attitudes with respect to the sustainability issue

(Longworth,1991). He goes on to argue that sustainable

agricultural development has attained a status comparable to

motherhood, in that no reasonable person is opposed to the idea in

principle. The paradox, however, is that "in practice, much of

modern agricultural output arises from production systems which

appear to be unsustainable in the longer run" (Longworth, 1991,


The issues relating to Caribbean sustainable development in

general, and sustainable agricultural development in particular,

have been receiving increasing attention in the last five years


(Ahmad et al, 1991; Jackson, 1990; Lewsey, 1990; Mahon and Simmons,

1990; Singh, 1991). The theme of this conference is indeed timely.

There should be little doubt that there are important structural

economic and agro-ecosystem characteristics of the Caribbean region

that would pose constraints to the attainment of regional

sustainable agricultural development. These characteristics would,

among other things, define the process or deliberate sequence of

actions critical to the attainment of sustainable agricultural

development. At the same time, it is imperative that an

appropriate conceptual framework accompany any dialogue on the

process. A conceptual framework is the first necessary condition

for development of a policy framework and for evaluation of the

actual or potential impact of the process, relative to the

attainment of sustainable agricultural development. This paper

attempts to contribute to the dialogue by highlighting some of the

important conceptual and process dimensions of the issues.



Some Relevant Concepts

While there is seldom serious disagreement on the importance

of both the developmental and sustainability issues, relative to

agriculture, there is a discernible lack of clarity on the

definitional and conceptual dimensions of the issues. This lack of

clarity inhibits, among other things, understanding of the nature

of the inter-relationship between the two issues, and add further

to the confusion on how to strategically approach the challenges of

attaining sustainable agricultural development. In attempting to


clarify the issues and articulate at a minimum, an appropriate

conceptual framework for analysis of the issues, it might be useful

to clarify a few key concepts that are relevant to the central

issues. The term concept is used to mean the basic idea or general

notion underlying a class of things.

One such concept is sustainability. This terminology depicts

a particular characteristic of a process that can be maintained

indefinitely. A critical aspect of the concept is that relating to

the process of maintenance of the characteristic. Recall that

earlier a process was defined as a deliberate sequence of actions.

Pomareda Benel (1990, p.3) defines the term cogently as, "making

good things last, making them permanent and durable." Longworth

(1991) points out that sustainability refers not only to the

physical environment but the social and economic environment.

Two other relevant and inter-related concepts are economic

growth and economic development. Economists define economic growth

as a change over time, in the level of real GDP per capital, or real

productivity per capital, or real consumption per capital. Also,

from the economists' perspective, economic development is change

leading to improvement or progress in some normatively defined

criteria of welfare gains and the distribution of such gains.

Stated differently, economic development is "a vector (D) of

desirable social objectives, that is a list of attributes which

society seeks to achieve or maximize" (Pearce, Barbier and

Markandya, 1990, p.2). One key element of this vector (D) would be

increases in the economic growth component, as defined earlier.

Other elements of the vector would be: (1) improved health and

nutritional status, (2) educational achievement, (3) more


equitable income distribution, and (4) access to productive

resources, to name a few.

The concept of agricultural development is a subset of

economic development. The conventional view of agricultural

development is one involving the modernization process applied to

agriculture, such that continuous growth is attained in the

productivity, production, income, and the distribution of same, at

the farm level or a given agricultural sector or subsector, without

public protection to this activity being a necessary condition for

its growth. In essence, agricultural development is a vector of

desirable social objectives which society seeks to achieve or

maximize for its agricultural sector or subsector. Given these

intrinsic properties of the economic/agriculture development

processes, it follows that sustainable development in general, or

sustainable agricultural development in particular, is a situation

in which the normatively determined development vector (D) of

desirable social objectives does not decrease over time (Pearce,

Barbier and Markandya, 1990).

Process and Concept Integration: A Biospheric Requirement

for Sustainability

Recognition that sustainable development issues are inclusive

of both the physical environment and the social and economic

environment is a principal component of the Biospheric World View

of human organization. Indeed, it has been suggested that such a

view requires a shift from the traditionally accepted paradigm of

human organization, which is dominated by the hedonistic tendencies

of "economic man", to one embedded in social relations, including

man-nature contracts (Singh, 1991). It is at this level where the

greatest divergence occurs between economists' and biological

scientists' paradigms of the interaction and inter-dependence

between the two environments. Specifically, economists do not

perceive the physical environment as consisting of a fixed quantum,

with a predetermined finite capacity to satisfy human needs

(Longworth, 1991). As such, the conventional economic paradigm

fails to recognize the laws of thermodynamics, particularly energy

conservation and entropy laws.

One of the major challenges confronting the economics

profession is to critically evaluate and modify its paradigm to

reflect biospheric dimensions of sustainable development. This is

a critical and necessary adaptation because it is only in so doing

that the economics profession can make pragmatic contributions to

the sustainable development debate. This type of intellectual

adjustment is equally critical to the debate on sustainable

agricultural development in the Caribbean and elsewhere. Indeed, it

is becoming quite apparent that some of the major issues relating

to Caribbean and Third World agricultural sustainability have to do

with the potential conflict between sustainability of the physical

environment and sustainability of the social and economic

environment. In order to critically analyze the nature of the

potential conflict and to articulate information-based policy

strategies, it is necessary to recognize the fact that the

biospheric concept of sustainable development or agricultural

development is intrinsically process-based. By process based we

mean that the concept intrinsically and explicitly states a key

necessary condition for achieving sustainable development.


Recall that a necessary condition is one which is essential or

inescapable. In this case, the key necessary condition or process

as we defined it earlier, is constancy of the stock of natural

capital. In other words, sustainable agricultural development

means economic change or modernization at the farm level or a given

agricultural sector or subsector, subject to constancy of the

environmental or natural resource capital stock (Singh, 1991;

Pomareda Benel, 1990).

The process-based concept of sustainable development was

articulated in the Brundtland Report (World Commission on

Environment and Development, 1987) when the concept was defined as,

"development that meets the needs of the present without

compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own

needs". The report further stated that sustainable development is

a process of change, rather than a fixed state of harmony. Within

this change process, human activities and organizations governing

the exploitation of resources, direction of investment, orientation

of technological development and institutional changes are made

consistent with future as well as present needs. The definition

adopted for sustainable development by the FAO in 1988 is, "the

management and conservation of the natural resource base, and the

orientation of technological and institutional change in such a

manner as to ensure the attainment and continued satisfaction of

human needs for present and future generations" (FAO, 1991, p.3).

The FAO concept is also process-based and is consistent with that

of the Brundtland Report. Singh (1991), points out that more

recent global sustainable development strategy documents are also

consistent with the 1987 Brundtland Report and the FAO (1991)

report in terms of the concept of sustainable development.

In more recent times, further elaboration of the concept tend

to highlight or emphasize the point that the critical sustainable

development process is one of improving the capacity to convert a

constant level of physical resource use to the increased

satisfaction of human needs. In essence, the more recent process-

based sustainable development concept differentiates between

qualitative development and quantitative growth, and explicitly

recognizes that the growth process can be constrained by the

capacity of the ecosystem to regenerate and absorb inputs (Singh,

1991). In short, process-based sustainable development or

agricultural development is a situation or process in which a

sector or subsector is on a trajectory of receiving increases in

desirable social objectives, without consuming such large

proportions of the energy of the ecosystem, whereby the ecosystem

is unable to regenerate itself continuously.

Some Economic Dimensions of the Process-Based Sustainable

Development Concept

Veeman (1989) argues that the contemporary view of

sustainable development encompasses at least three interwoven

aspects that are critical to the understanding of the concept.

These are: (1) an economic growth component, (2) a distributional

or equity component and, (3) an environmental asset or natural

capital stock component. Given the earlier review of the concepts

of economic growth and economic development, one would intuitively

assume or expect that the attainment of economic growth and

development would also make sustainable development possible.

However, paradoxically the economic growth component of sustainable

development is often in conflict with the distributional and

environmental components (Veeman, 1989). The traditional theories

of economic growth give heavy emphasis to factors such as capital

accumulation via high marginal rate of saving, technological

innovation and human capital formation. The emergence of the

contemporary biospheric view of sustainable development added two

other dimensions to the consideration of aggregate welfare gains,

and these two dimensions are at the heart of the potential conflict

between the three aspects of the sustainable development concept.

The two new dimensions are: (1) assignment of greater weight to

the stability characteristic of the economic growth component over

time, and to the intergenerational implications of economic growth

and, (2) assignment of heavy weight to environmental assets in

valuing long-term welfare gains (Longworth, 1991).

The time preference behaviour of producers and consumers as

they interact in the market-place, could result in divergence

between the socially acceptable stability/intergenerational growth

distribution and environmental assets quality components of

sustainable development on one hand, and the "scale" of the

economic growth component, on the other hand. Pomareda Benel

(1990) argues that the time preference behaviour among agricultural

producers and consumers is at the heart of decisions on resource

use and consumption, saving and investment. He further argues that,

"Sustainability requires valuing the future: when the future

matters, currently available resources are frequently used with

discretion to avoid degradation and/or exhaustion" (p.2). The fact

that most Third World farmers are poor and uninsured, results in a

situation where their production and consumption behaviour are

skewed towards the present. In other words, the guarantee of

survival this year and the next year is very important. Lipton

(1989, p.l) argues that within this type of economic context: "the

case for conserving the rural resource base -- for old age or for

one's children -- might seem remote". Under these conditions,

degradation of both private and common rural property is

encouraged. It would be far from the truth, however, to blame the

poor for the bulk of natural capital stock depletion in Third World

countries. Vyas (1991) argues that more demand on land and natural

resources is made by the life style of the rich than by the need-

based exploitation of the poor. He concluded that the relative

rate of depletion of natural resources by the poor is small

compared to that of the rich, due to wasteful living style.

The biospheric concept of sustainable development dictates a

process of economic growth, subject to constancy of natural wealth.

As such, it requires that the next generation inherits a stock of

environmental assets no less than the stock inherited by the

previous generation. The potential conflict between the scale of

the economic growth component, and the stability/intergenerational

growth distribution and environmental asset components, arises when

the long-term constancy condition of the environmental asset is not

met. The contemporary biospheric view of sustainable development

clearly points out the need for a conceptual framework which

explicitly accounts for the role of markets (both product and

factor) in the determination of current and future resource

allocation. Redclif (1988) argues that the market has been an


obstacle to the achievement of enhanced environmental conditions.

He argues further, that greater intellectual efforts should be

directed at linking the concept of development with that of

sustainability, with market activities being a central component of

the linkage.

One of the most protracted source of potential conflict

between the Veeman's (1989) three components of sustainable

development, is reconciliation of the conventional national income

accounting framework used for measuring economic growth and

economic development, with the increased weight assigned by the

contemporary sustainable development concept to environmental

assets as a yardstick of long-term welfare gains. The conventional

national income accounting indicators of economic growth and

development (GDP, per capital income, etc) have been severely

criticized for their intrinsic failure to reflect diminished

potential of future production caused by depletion of non-renewable

natural resources (Mirandas and Muzondo, 1991). The conventional

national accounting indicators are purely economic accounting

indicators. As a result, it is argued that their measurement of

economic growth and development, "can be illusory, and the

prosperity it engenders transitory, if the apparent gain in income

means a permanent reduction in the stock of environmental assets"

(Mirandas and Muzondo, 1991, p.26). In response to this conflict,

a number of industrialized countries, including France and Norway,

are now establishing natural resource accounting frameworks to

supplement the conventional national income accounting framework,

as they attempt to address contemporary sustainable development


The potential conflict between the three components of the

contemporary sustainable development concept, particularly as they

relate to producers' and consumers' time preference behaviour, on

one hand, and shortcomings of conventional national economic

accounting framework, on the other hand, can also be viewed in the

context of what economists term "market and/or policy failures"

(Miranda and Muzondo, 1991). Market failure exists when social

costs or benefits diverge from private costs or benefits. Policy

failure exists when: (1) the public sector fails to redress market

failure through legal, regulatory, economic or other means, when it

is clearly feasible to do so or (2) when public sector activities

magnifies existing market failures (Miranda and Muzondo, 1991). If

producers and consumers, given their present day time preference

behaviour, engage in market activities that maximize the set of

short-term desirable economic growth objectives, this could result

in overconsumption and excessive depreciation of long-term

environmental assets. The contemporary concept of sustainable

development, unlike the conventional concepts of economic growth

and development, explicitly includes as a "necessary" social

objective, preservation of the regenerative capacity of

environmental assets overtime. As such, if the behaviour of

producers and consumers in pursuit of short-term economic growth

objectives, via market-interactions, are in violation of this

condition, this would represent a case of market failure.

Policy failure can also exacerbate the conflict between the

three components of sustainable development. It should be

recognized that policy failure, like market failure, is essentially

microeconomic in nature. As such, it is argued that they,"are thus


best addressed through the introduction of new or a recalibration

of existing microeconomic instruments" (Miranda and Muzondo, 1991

p.26). Public policy can give preference to the present over the

future, thereby encouraging producers' and consumers' tendency to

seek maximization of short term profit or satisfaction rather than

long-term welfare. In short, since attitudes towards sustainable

development and/or agricultural development may be compromised by

expedient public policy, it is imperative that a public policy

framework be an integral part of sustainable development strategy.

However, the appropriate public policy framework for sustainable

development must be one in which the development strategy has as

its goal, sustainable development in the biospheric sense, rather

than transitory economic performance. It is argued, however, that

this type of public policy framework, "must emerge from the

country's own understanding and commitment, not through conditional

external imposition" (Pomareda Benel, 1990, p.11).



The argument presented here is that the contemporary

biospheric concept of sustainable agricultural development is

intrinsically process-based. Such a characteristic stems from the

necessary definitional condition of constancy of environmental

assets. It should be recognized, however, that the process

configuration of the concept also suggests that a set of sufficient

conditions must be in place to attain sustainable agricultural

development. It is equally important to recognize that the process

characteristic of the concept explicitly denotes a time component


and a spatial component (Singh, 1991). The time elements are the

present and the future. The spatial elements could run a wide

range of ecological boundaries, from ecological earth to the stocks

of ecological assets within a specific geopolitical boundary. In

this paper, sustainable agricultural development issues within the

context of the Caribbean are the primary concern. Specifically,

the Caribbean is defined here, to mean the thirteen CARICOM

countries of the English speaking Caribbean (Antigua and Barbuda;

Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Dominica; Grenada; Guyana; Jamaica;

Montserrat; St. Christopher and Nevis; St. Lucia; St. Vincent and

the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago). The context, therefore

is: (1) the agro-ecosystems and, (2) the agro-economic systems of

the Caribbean region as defined, particularly as these two elements

might impact the operational dimensions of the sustainable

agricultural development concept.

Caribbean Aqro-Ecosystems

The agro-ecosystems of the thirteen CARICOM countries have

been characterized in terms of a set of physical endowments,

inclusive of: (1) mountainous topography, with intensive rainfall

and fast moving rivers in most states, (2) limited availability of

flat arable land, with a high proportion concentrated in relatively

large farms, (3) large number (300,000) of small sized farms on

poor quality hillside lands and (4) some difficult to manage

ecosystems, such as swamps, saline soils and soils with slippage

problems (Ahmad et al, 1991). These features of the regional agro-

ecosystems, interacted with certain historical patterns of the

regional economic structure, to produce a type of agro-ecosystem

which dominate flat lands, and another type which dominate hill

lands. Flat land agro-ecosystem has the following characteristics:

(1) arable lands under export crops such as sugarcane, bananas,

coconuts and citrus, (2) arable lands under food crops and

vegetables, (3) wet lands under rice and (4) problem lands

including lands subject to slippage, saline lands, and lands with

aluminium soils. Hill land agro-ecosystem is characterized by:

(1) lands under specific type of export crops, such as bananas,

cocoa, coconuts and spices and (2) lands under shifting food and

vegetable crop cultivation (Ahmad, et al, 1991).

It is argued that the major issues relating to agricultural

sustainability within these particular agro-ecosystems, are those

stemming from constraints or problems endemic to the five inter-

dependent sub-systems which make up the totality of Caribbean agro-

ecosystems (Ahmad et al, 1991). The five agro-ecological sub-

systems with examples of constraints are: (1) the physical sub-

system soil management, energy use orientation, pollution levels

(2) the biological sub-system approaches to productivity

increases and the role of biodiversity, (3) the crop production

sub-system choice of technology system, resource management

orientation, (4) the livestock sub-system animal waste disposal,

quality and quantity dimensions of genetic material and

(5) the socio-economic sub-system factors impacting on resource

allocation decisions, policy formulation and organizational

framework (Ahmad, et al, 1991).

Caribbean Agro-Economic Systems

The major features of contemporary Caribbean agro-economic

systems evolved from dynamic interactions between the agro-

ecosystems of the region and the nature of the region's historical

colonial political-economic relationship with the metropoles.

Levitt and Best (1978) describe the historical colony metropole

economic relationship as being one of "hinterlands of

exploitation". They characterize these hinterlands of exploitation

as areas of direct extension of the economy of the metropole, whose

primary function, "is to produce a staple required for metropolitan

consumption and for entrepot trade to third countries" (p.39).

The net effect of these interactive dimensions of Caribbean

societies is a unique structural and organizational configuration,

which is a prime force in shaping the economic performance of the

agro-economic systems.

Structural and Organizational Characteristics:- Caribbean

agro-economic systems can be structurally characterized as a

dualistic system, including on one hand, (1) large, well

capitalized farms, using advanced technology, located on flat lands

with soils of high fertility, engaged primarily in monocropping of

perennial crops, destined for the export market, and on the other

hand, (2) small, undercapitalized farms, using low-input

technology, located on hilly lands of fragile soils with low

capability, engaged primarily in multiple-cropping of annual crops

and livestock commodities, destined for local markets.

These structural and organizational characteristics of agro-

economic dualism, are sharply defined in terms of at least six

critical factors, which have significant implications for the


economic performance of the system and the attainment of

sustainable development. The six factors are: (1) farm size

characteristics, (2) farm financial resource allocation,

(3) farm land and soil resource allocation, (4) cropping system

and crop species, (5) levels and types of technology applied to

farming and (6) target markets (Ahmad, et al, 1991).

Economic Performance Characteristics:- The level of economic

dependence on agriculture in Caribbean economies varies from one of

high dependence in Dominica to one of lesser dependence in Antigua

and Barbuda. The economic performance of agricultural sectors also

varies across countries, as does the economic dependence on export

markets for earnings. In terms of agriculture sector's relative

contribution to GDP, employment, and foreign exchange earnings,

sectoral contribution is dominated by one or at most, two

commodities. However, the level of economic dependency on

individual crops varies across countries. Sugar cane is relatively

more important in Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis and Trinidad

and Tobago, while bananas dominate in the Windward Islands

(Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines).

The bottom line is that with the possible exception of Jamaica,

Caribbean agricultural economies have remained dependent on a few

major traditional exports, such as sugar and bananas, and have had

little or no success in developing significant alternative crops

(Budhram and Rock, 1991).

Over the last fifteen years, the agricultural sector of

Caribbean countries has shown a decline in its relative capacity

not only to earn foreign exchange but also to satisfy domestic food

needs. As a result, the food import bill of the region (as


measured by the ratio of food imports to total imports) has grown

significantly. The region as a whole has become a net importer of

food. The contribution of agriculture to GDP has registered a

relative decline in the last ten years. Furthermore, this relative

decline, rather than being a product of the expansion of other

sectors as is generally associated with growth, can be largely

attributed to declining levels of food production and stagnation

and or decline of traditional exports, particularly sugar. The

decline in sugar has been occurring since the 1960s and the decline

has been in both absolute terms (declining yields and acreage

planted), and relative terms.

The Caribbean sugar subsector has enjoyed some measure of

economic insulation from the vagaries of the international market,

as a result of special trading arrangements with guarantee prices

above world market prices in the EC and the United States markets.

However, the sugar industry is faced with declining efficiency and

rising production costs. Sometimes production costs are as high as

the guaranteed prices received in the preferential EC and United

States markets. A number of Caribbean countries (Antigua and

Barbuda, St. Lucia and St. Vincent) have made the decision to stop

producing sugar commercially.

Agriculture is the most important sector in terms of

contribution to GDP, employment, and foreign exchange earnings in

the OECS subregion (Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St.

Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Montserrat, St. Vincent and the

Grenadines). Tourism is experiencing rapid growth in the OECS

countries, but the growth rate is much higher in the Leeward

Islands (Antigua and St. Kitts and Nevis), than in the Windward


Islands (Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia,

Dominica, Montserrat). The OECS countries, which as a group is

generally referred as the LDCs of the Caribbean, have experienced

economic growth rates much higher than the so-called MDCs of the

Caribbean (Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago).

Specifically, over the last five years real growth rates have

averaged 5 to 9 percent in the OECS, compared to 2 to 4 percent in

the MDCs, excluding Barbados (Budhram and Rock, 1991).

Banana production is the most important industry in the

Windward Islands. The Windward Islands have expanded by almost 10

percent, its banana export contribution to domestic exports between

1977 and 1987 (Budhram and Rock, 1991). As such, expanded banana

production has been a major factor in the economic growth in the

Windward Islands over the last decade. The expansion in banana

production has been facilitated by guaranteed and preferential

market arrangements with the EC (Lome Conventions). Inspite of the

recent economic success of banana production in the Windward

Islands a number of problems have emerged which might affect the

future economic viability of this subsector. Some of the problems

are: (1) labour scarcity, (2) persistency of Moko disease and

declining product quality, (3) rising land prices and (4) the

predominance of small holder farming with limited resources for

investment (Budhram and Rock, 1991) and (5) low average yields.

Given the economic performance of Caribbean agro-economic

systems, the region is seeking desperately to find ways of

effectively adjusting to changes in the regional and global

economic and agro-ecological environments that are impacting the

sector in fundamental ways. Some of the more critical changes are:


(1) structural changes in the demand for traditional primary

products, (2) consolidation of markets into mega-trading blocs

(Unified EC in 1993, US-Canada-Mexico Free Trade Association

(NAFTA), (3) trade liberalization initiatives under GATT and

(4) sustainable agriculture problems relating to successful

management of the physical, biological, production and socio-

economic dimensions of natural resources.

Effective adjustment by Caribbean agro-economic systems to

these types of changes is imperative for the process whereby

agriculture can satisfy changing human needs, while maintaining or

enhancing the quality of the regional environment assets. This is

the world of reality in which the Caribbean is seeking to

operationalize the concept of sustainable agricultural development.



Within the Caribbean context the contemporary process-based

concept of sustainable agricultural development would mean that the

region's agricultural sector (consisting of interactive agro-

ecosystems and agro-economic systems) is on a trajectory of

attaining increases in socially desirable economic objectives,

without the overconsumption of the energy of the agro-ecosystems,

thereby permitting the agro-ecosystems to regenerate themselves

continuously. In attaining this state, the region would be

ensuring the continuity of the natural resource assets from one

generation to the next.

A review of the economic performance of Caribbean agricultural

sector suggests that the sector has been on a negative-growth


trajectory for nearly two decades. It is also clear, that there

has been significant degradation in the agro-ecological systems of

the region over this period of negative-growth. The agro-ecological

degradation has come in the form of:

(1) significant increases in erosion and soil loss to the physical

eco-subsystem (up to 125 tons per hectare annually from hillside

farming alone), (2) increased dependency on chemical fertilizers,

pesticides and fungicides in the biological and production eco-

subsystems, with attendant decline in biodiversity, due to

mortality of non-target species, and at the same time decreasing

crop yields and overgrazing of communal lands (Ahmad et al, 1991).

A significant aspect of Caribbean agro-economic negative-growth

experience is the fact that the economic decline occurred under

umbrellas of preferential trading arrangements for major

traditional agricultural exports, in the EC and the United States

markets. Caribbean agro-economic performance would have been

decidedly worse in the absence of these protective umbrellas. The

evidence would suggest that the Caribbean region as defined

earlier, has failed to arrive at a process of attaining sustainable

agricultural development in the contemporary sense of the concept.

Furthermore, the evidence also suggests that such a failure was not

functionally linked to the conflict sometimes arising from the

achievement of economic growth objectives, at the expense of the

quality of agro-ecosystem assets. The economic growth indicators

were negative and as such, were not a driving force behind the

degradation of the agro-ecosystem. The answer must be found


It might be useful to reflect on a number of pertinent

questions. One question has to do with whether the negative

economic growth experience of Caribbean agro-economies might be

functionally related to the degradation suffered by the agro-

ecosystem. Stated differently, the question is whether a similar

level of agro-ecosystem degradation would have occurred if the

growth experience were positive. This is a question, which cannot

be answered here. However, another pertinent question where the

answer might be deduced is whether the Caribbean can expect to

attain sustainable agricultural development without registering

economic growth. On the latter question, it is suggested here that

the answer is "improbable, if not impossible". In other words,

it is suggested here that sustainable agricultural development in

the Caribbean is not attainable without economic growth. Earlier,

it was argued that the process-based concept of sustainable

agricultural development also suggests that a set of sufficient

conditions be in place to attain that objective. Agricultural

sector growth is seen as a key variable in the set of sufficient

conditions. This position is arrived at from two reasoned

interrelated considerations.

First, there is agreement with Vyas' (1991, p.14) argument

that, "a cardinal principle of sustainability is to ensure

protection, if not enhancement, of the incomes of the small and

marginal farmers and others whose livelihood depend on these

resources". Agriculture's contribution to economic development is

a significant dimension of Caribbean people's welfare status. It

is argued that sustainability requires: (1) the alleviation of

poverty, (2) a decline in human fertility, (3) the substitution of


human capital for natural resources, (4) effective demand for

environmental quality and (5) a responsive supply. These factors

are contingent upon higher levels of income, which are inturn a

product of economic growth (Panayotou, 1992).

Second, it is neither economic growth nor non-growth per se

which is responsible for Caribbean agro-ecosystem degradation, and

the approach to ecological limits. Rather, it is the source and

pattern of factors that accompany either path. Some of the

critical factors are: (1) the agricultural technology used for

productivity enhancement, (2) ineffiencies and waste and

(3) dissociation between scarcity and price, benefits and costs,

rights and responsibilities and action and consequences. These

factors reflect what was earlier called market and/or policy

failures (Panayotou, 1992).

The Caribbean region is currently confronted with the dual

problem of: (1) addressing long-term concerns for the

sustainability of the agro-ecosystem and (2) finding ways of

reducing poverty in rural areas and meeting the growing aspirations

of its growing population. These two problems have to be addressed

concurrently within the context of significant changes in the

global economic environment. Some of the more direct relevant

global changes are: (1) a unified EC market after 1992, with major

implications for restructing of preferential marketing arrangements

for traditional export crops such as sugar and bananas,

(2) the emergence of the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA),

consisting of Canada, Mexico and the United States, with increased

possibility of competition in traditional and non-traditional

agricultural exports coming from Mexico, (3) transition of Eastern


European countries towards market economies, with the prospect for

new markets for tropical products, but the diversion of multi-

lateral financial aid to these countries and (4) the emergence of

Pacific Rim Countries as an area of high potential international

growth centre.

The region has opted to meet the challenge of attaining

economic growth with agro-ecosystem sustainability via a strategy

of agricultural diversification. The particular type of

diversification strategy is one of maintaining or enhancing the

production and value of the major export commodities, and

simultaneously initiating and or increasing the production and

value of alternative commodities. The hope is that under a well

conceived and implemented agricultural diversification strategy,

the region's agricultural sector will improve its competitive

performance as it moves along a trajectory of attaining sustainable

agricultural development. In pursuing such a strategy, careful

attention must be given to those sources and patterns of factors

that accompany economic growth and may compromise the environmental

sustainability potential. In short, the Caribbean would stand a

much better chance of attaining sustainable agricultural

development if it can minimize market and or policy failures as it

moves along an economic growth trajectory.


The contemporary biospheric concept of sustainable

agricultural development is intrinsically process-based, since it

explicitly states constancy of the natural resource stock over

time, as a key necessary condition. In addition, the process of


achieving such a desirable objective is a function of a set of

sufficient conditions being in place. If the Caribbean seeks

sustainable agricultural development as a social objective it will

be necessary to successfully pursue a path of development, which

will reflect continuity in the economic growth of the region's

agricultural sector. Economic growth in the agricultural sector is

a key factor in increased levels of income for rural people. The

protection, if not enhancement, of the incomes of small, marginal

farmers, and other rural groups, is a cardinal principle of

sustainable agricultural development.

In pursuing sustainable agricultural development, the

Caribbean must do so within the context of the agro-ecosystems and

the agro-economic systems of the area, and these systems have

interactive impacts on the choice of the path taken. The economic

growth path to sustainable agricultural development explicitly

rejects the notion that agro-economic growth must necessarily

compromise the integrity of the agro-ecosystem. There is no

functional relationship between either the economic growth or the

non-economic growth of Caribbean agro-economic systems, and the

increased degradation of the region's agro-ecosystem. Rather, it

is the source and patterns of certain factors that accompany either

path which is the cause of decline in environmental assets. These

combined factors reflect either market failure and or policy


Caribbean economies face the vagaries of a rapidly changing

global economic environment, in which their agro-economies might

suffer adverse economic shocks associated with regional marketing

realignment of traditional trading partners. At the same time,


these global changes offer "windows of opportunity" for Caribbean

agricultural sectors to pursue a well thought out sustainable

agricultural development strategy, base on agricultural

diversification. However, the particular type of diversification

strategy should be one which seeks to maintain or enhance the

production and value of major commodities and simultaneously

initiating or increasing the production and value of alternative

commodities. Such a strategy if well conceived and implemented,

would improve the competitive performance of the sector and propel

it along a sustainable development path, with the caveat that

appropriate steps are taken to minimize market and policy failures.


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