(Caribbean Development Bank Press Release) After the devastation caused by the deadly 1995 volcanic eruption in Montserrat, the tiny British Overseas Territory is still rebuilding its infrastructure and economic sectors some 27 years later.
However, the country’s population of just under 5 000 is receiving an important boost from the Caribbean Development Bank’s (CDB) Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Unit, to shore up its food security efforts.
The Market Assessment and Development of a Technical Plan for The Establishment of an Agro-Processing Facility in Montserrat is an initiative that seeks to reduce the island’s food imports, and place residents on a more sustainable path to food security by utilizing the abundant local supply of various fruits and vegetables.
Dr Selvyn Maloney, the Director of Montserrat’s Ministry of Agriculture and the person responsible for the project’s execution, lamented Montserratians’ current dependence on imported foods, a situation that adds to the many vulnerabilities they already face.
At the same time, he is convinced this condition could be greatly mitigated through the establishment of a processing facility to produce added value products from excess fruits and produce such as breadfruit, mangoes, guava, plantains, tamarinds, bananas and others that often go to waste.
The nutrient-rich soil of the island contributes to the high quality and quantity of fresh produce there, much of which cannot be consumed by the small population before they deteriorate.
Citing the COVID-19 pandemic related supply chain disruptions, the senior government official said this further reinforced the need for the entire Caribbean to have greater control over its food supply.
Last year, the Caribbean Community committed to a 25 percent reduction in the region’s food import bill by 2025 under the CARICOM 25 by 25 Agri-Food Systems Strategy.
“We currently import almost everything into the country. When you examine our problems with non communicable diseases (NCDs) and the correlation between that and the types of foods that our people are consuming, it requires a deeper consideration of how many fruits and vegetables are being wasted each year and the content of the processed foods we import,” Dr. Maloney stated.
He also stressed the importance of Montserrat having greater control over the processed items its residents are consuming.
Apart from public health concern about rising levels of NCDs, the Director of Agriculture cited the significant economic advantages of establishing an agro-processing facility on the island.
“Like other Caribbean countries, we are dealing with the effects of high global inflation as the cost of imported products continues to rise. Such a facility will help to reduce our import bill through import substitution.”
He also noted the contribution the facility is expected to make through the provision of direct employment opportunities, as well as income to those supplying produce to the planned facility.
“Also of importance is the current demand. Items such as breadfruits are very popular, and we have had some input from our consultant about the variety of ways breadfruits can be used such as breadfruit bowls, which we heard are very popular in places like Barbados. Montserratians love items like breadfruit chips and roasted breadfruit,” he noted.
An assessment of the market by consultants who met with supermarket operators and average citizens indicated the agro-processing facility was desirable and the products would be supported by retail operators and the public.
To address future supply requirements, Dr. Maloney highlighted the Ministry of Agriculture’s breadfruit and fruit tree planting project which had already started.
Offering an update on life on the island, Dr. Maloney said the quality of life was still relatively high despite the natural disaster that led to the hurried exodus of most of the then 12 000 inhabitants.
He described Montserrat as a harmonious “melting pot”, with the majority of the population comprising people from Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Guyana.
“Our standard of living is still reasonably high, and the island is one of the safest places in the Caribbean to live and raise a family. The exclusion zone caused by the eruption is now much smaller and what we are also seeking to do is generate greater economic activity that will give Montserratians who moved to the United Kingdom and other parts of the diaspora, a reason to return,” he disclosed.
According to Dr. Maloney, many citizens migrated to the UK, taking advantage of relocation packages funded by the British government that included plane tickets, accommodation in the UK, and a monthly stipend.
“If you migrated to another Caribbean island, you were also given a package that included the cost of travel and $10,000. Many of those who left when they were in their 30s and 40s have expressed a willingness to return home to retire but . . . there must be greater economic activity to make the island more attractive for them to return in greater numbers.”
Of CDB’s support for the island, Dr. Maloney lauded the regional development bank’s assistance in procuring equipment, the cost of consultants, market assessment and technical advisors for the agro-processing facility.
At the same time, he also highlighted and commended the CDB’s role in financing a new Port in Little Bay, Montserrat. That facility, for which groundbreaking occurred last June, is one of the island’s largest infrastructural developments in recent years.