Caribbean economies are poised to benefit from a region-wide initiative to expand seafood market share, through the implementation of food safety measures to enable countries to get a bigger piece of the global pie, worth an estimated US$130 billion annually.
Caribbean countries, including The Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago, are now capitalizing on a coordinated approach to broaden the gateway to the growing market. CARIFORUM (CARICOM and the Dominican Republic) now exports about US$400 million worth of fish and seafood annually.
Belize and Jamaica are two Caribbean seafood exporters already tapping into markets controlled by the European Union (EU) — a tough market to access because of stringent standards that require countries have systems in place to ensure that their exports are not only safe for consumption but also free from harmful pests and pathogens.
In the case of Belize, which has traditionally exported shrimp to the EU, it is moving to export conch to that market for the first time, according to Endhir Sosa, Senior Food Safety Inspector of Belize.
Sosa was among the 18 professionals from CARIFORUM who recently received management training on sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS) in Iceland. The training was offered under the capacity-building component of an EU-sponsored project to implement SPS Measures under the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) regime. The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) are collaborating to implement the fisheries component of the project.
Sosa broke down the meaning of this very technical term – SPS – which could just as well be the acronym for “safe and profitable seafood.” “In a nutshell, it’s just a series of procedures, of guidelines, of requirements, that one needs to implement to basically prove that what they are producing is safe,” the food safety expert commented. “Confidence is what is key! It is what everybody seeks when it comes to the purchase and consumption of food products,” he said, adding, “SPS is one of those routes where you can establish that confidence in your product.”
Sosa noted, “Once you have an established SPS system in place and it is vetted and it’s shown to be functional, that will open markets locally, regionally, and internationally. “When BAHA (the Belize Agricultural Health Authority) first started in 2000, you could count the number of countries we were exporting to on your hand. It wasn’t more than five to seven. Today, thanks to SPS, thanks to the confidence that our SPS program has put into our products, not only fish, the markets have increased almost three-fold. Now we have a little over 30 markets,” he said.
Chairman of the Caribbean Fisheries Forum, Denzil Roberts, who is also the Chief Fisheries Officer in Guyana, noted: “The fisheries sector within the CARIFORUM region continues to play an important role in rural development, food and nutrition security, income generation, and foreign exchange earnings. However, it must be recognized that there is a paucity of skilled personnel within the region to further develop the sector in keeping with the emerging challenges.” The intensive two-week training course recently held in Iceland served to help fill this knowledge gap in the Caribbean.
Susan Singh-Renton, the CRFM’s deputy executive director, noted, “The CRFM/UNU-FTP SPS Management Course has been very successful in achieving its objective of exposing CARIFORUM Fisheries and Agricultural Health and Food Safety experts to the key lessons and best practices of the Icelandic fishing industry in producing safe and wholesome fishery products of an international standard. At the close of the course, participants reflected on and also documented how they would apply what they had learned to improve fisheries SPS management in their home countries.”
Jeannette Mateo, Director of Fisheries Resources at the Dominican Council for Fisheries and Aquaculture (CODOPESCA) in the Dominican Republic, suggested that nationals in her country, such as biologists, inspectors, fisheries officers, and consumer protection agents, should be trained in basic concepts of SPS.
For his part, Roberts hopes that the trainees will immediately begin to impart what they have learned to others in their national networks. Roberts furthermore hopes that trainees will implement internationally recognized safety standards for seafood, thereby safeguarding the health of the local population while ensuring market access to meet global market demands.
Singh-Renton said that the CRFM will also strive to do its part to provide follow-up regional support for improved SPS management for the region’s fishing industries, including facilitating continued networking among the course participants.
“One of the more frequent but often overlooked problems within the Caribbean is food fraud and mislabeling,” noted Dr. Wintorph Marsden, Senior Veterinary Officer in Jamaica’s Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries. Marsden said that Jamaica is considered a major transshipment hub for fish and fishery products to the wider Caribbean region, and so the burden is on Jamaica, as a first point of entry, to implement a system of verification of products entering its food chain.
“To combat food fraud, it is an absolute necessity to introduce traceability,” said Marsden. This can now be done electronically, with modern systems of recording, such as the use barcodes, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and other tracking media within the production chain.
In the Dominican Republic, Mateo’s job is to review all the supporting documentation for seafood imports and exports. She observed, though, “Some of these documents might have statements to make the consumers believe that they are getting a high-quality product while they are actually getting products with less quality and deliberate mislabeling.” An example, she said, is fish from the genus Pangasius, a catfish primarily sourced from the Asian market, which is being sold cheaply in the region and marketed at times as “grouper” — not only at supermarkets but also at some restaurants.
“While in Iceland, I learned that deliberate mislabeling of food, the substitution of products with cheaper alternatives, and false statements about the origin of foods, are all food fraud,” Mateo said.
“This is relevant to the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean, where imported fish are in some cases marketed at lower prices than the local ones, not only due to the lower production cost of fish products such as tilapia and Pangasius (catfish – sold as ‘basa’ or ‘swai’) in comparison with those produced in the country, but also because of unfair practices in trade,” Mateo said.
She said that as a result of the Iceland training, the Dominican Republic is now in the final stage of building an improved national SPS system for fishery and aquaculture products which was initiated with the support of the government of Chile.
Whereas the move to implement SPS measures was originally focused on export trade, regional experts also indicate that they are vital to food safety and health even within the region. “The Caribbean is known to be a huge importer of food products,” Sosa noted. “We have to look after our population, we have to look after the health of our people, we have to look after the health of our environment and our agricultural products; and thus SPS — although at this point it is mostly the industrialized countries that are pushing it, that are requiring it—should be really and truly across the board.”
Science-based risk assessment and risk analysis of imports are also key in protecting vital agriculture and fisheries industries. “We have been mandated with the task of being the gatekeepers when it comes to food safety and agricultural health and we take that responsibility very seriously. Sometimes the public will get angry with us, because they truly don’t understand why we are doing this. ‘Why can’t I bring this across the border?’ But the realization is that if a disease [is introduced], it could potentially destroy an entire industry — whether it be, for example, bringing across poultry with avian influenza, or bringing in diseased shrimp—it could wipe out an entire multi-million-dollar industry,” Sosa warned.
Sosa noted that SPS measures were initially geared towards industrial markets but now they are encouraging small producers to position themselves for export by implementing SPS measures. “They might not have the finance to construct an elaborate facility, but we can start with the basics,” he said, pointing to “good manufacturing practices and the sanitation standard operating procedures which would build confidence in products from even small producers.” More importantly, he said, implementing SPS measures is the first step that producers will need to make to even think about trading on the world market.
Over 40 Percent of Internet Users in Jamaica Watch at Least Half of all Video Online
Ericsson ConsumerLab has published insights from a study called “Networked Consumption,” exploring how the increasing use of the internet and mobile apps is changing user behavior. The study is based on 942 interviews in Jamaica, representing the views of 400,000 Jamaicans, and shows that many activities that used to be carried out in a brick-and-mortar setting are now migrating to the internet and mobile apps.
The study is focused on the service usage behavior of two consumer groups, both of which spend more than an hour on the internet every day: the netizens, who are the early adopters using at least seven digital services daily; and the networkers, also known as early followers, who use at least three digital services a day.
Together, netizens and networkers account for more than 42 percent of internet users in Jamaica, driving use of the internet and the uptake of mobile apps across the six activity areas covered in the study: communication, information search, travel, entertainment, education, and healthcare.
The usage gap between netizens and networkers for an activity decides the pace of change; the wider the gap, the longer it takes for changed behavior to become mainstream.
The appification of calls (an activity is “appified” if over 50 percent of users have reported an increase in mobile app use over a year) is happening more quickly than the overall shift of calls to the internet. Some 76 percent of smart phone users in Jamaica have reported an increase in the use of mobile apps for making calls over a year and, considering that there is no gap between the two user groups, internet calling can be considered appified and mainstream for smart phone owners.
Only 27 percent of Jamaican internet users book healthcare appointments online, while 24 percent search for healthcare information on the internet at least every other time they carry out such activities, indicating a much slower pace of change when it comes to internet and app usage in the healthcare domain.
Diana Moya, head of Ericsson ConsumerLab Latin America, said: “The slow transformation in healthcare may be due to concerns over privacy. Many consumers worry about information about them being recorded and used without their knowledge.”
For entertainment activities, 41 percent of internet users in Jamaica watch at least half of all video via online channels. In just over a year, 81 percent of netizens and 80 percent of networkers in Jamaica reported an increase in their use of mobile apps to watch videos.
“This indicates that entertainment via mobile apps is likely to become mainstream very quickly,” Moya said.
CDB-Funded Workshop Promotes Gender-Mainstreaming in Education
Over 60 senior education planners, gender focal points, and representatives of the Association of Caribbean Chief Education Officers from across the region are now better equipped to address the issues of gender mainstreaming in the education sector.
The regional representatives recently attended a workshop hosted by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) on gender analysis in education, and orientation to the gender implementation guidelines for the design and implementation of education sector development plans.
During the workshop, participants discussed gender concepts, and issues relating to Caribbean societies, including how Caribbean educational systems are nuanced by issues of gender. Having completed the workshop, participants are now able to conduct gender analyses as well as apply tools to integrate gender consideration in education sector planning.
Participants were also introduced to the CDB-developed gender implementation guidelines (GIG). These guidelines serve as a template to better support the inclusion of gender equality outcomes in the design and implementation of education sector development plans, and are a practical tool for operationalizing gender equality principles in these plans.
Speaking about the GIG, Denise Noel-DeBique, gender equality advisor at the CDB, said: “It strengthens the focus on gender equality outcomes of the sector and complements the education planning process by introducing specific elements of gender analysis in the implementation of education programs.”
All CDB borrowing-member countries, with the exception of Haiti, were represented at the workshop, which was held from May 24-25 in Barbados, and was facilitated by the Institute of Gender and Development Studies of the University of the West Indies.
“CDB, over the last couple of years, has dedicated significant amount of resources to assist borrowing member countries to develop strategies to assist in ensuring that there is concentrated focus on gender equality. It is expected that our education planners, will develop a full understanding of gender implementation as part of the overall plans and will ensure that these are etched in the plans on yearly basis,” said Dr Grace McLean, Chief Education Officer, Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, Jamaica.
Puerto Rico Hotels Focus on Zika Protection to Provide Guests Worry-Free Vacation
The Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC) has maintained close contact with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the ground in Puerto Rico to communicate zika facts to the public. Now, PRTC and the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association (PRHTA) have collaborated to implement precautionary measures in hotels to alleviate zika concerns of travelers preparing to visit one of the summer’s top getaway destinations.
PRHTA hotels have rolled-out disease prevention and control measures to keep guests safe and worry-free. In addition to education and awareness programs, other proactive measures include:
• Spraying, fogging and misting all public areas regularly to control mosquito populations
• Chlorinating and monitoring swimming pools
• Maintaining strict and preventive grounds keeping practices
• Providing hotel welcome kits for all guests at check-in that contain the latest CDC guidelines and information regarding zika safety including an infographic detailing how to correctly apply bug spray and a brochure highlighting all the specific steps the hotel is taking to protect against zika
• Providing employee awareness training through internal communications and bulletins
• Offering EPA-approved insect repellent for free upon check-in, throughout public spaces and/or in gift shops for purchase
• Creating an online microsite — PuertoRicoNow.SeePuertoRico.com — that provides guests and potential visitors with the most up-to-date information regarding zika in Puerto Rico
“Responsible dissemination of health information is one thing,” said Clarisa Jiménez, President and CEO of the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association, “but zika messaging with its editorial embellishment has moved into fear mongering, and we believe that has blown things out of proportion.”
“We have taken all the measures that the CDC has recommended from day one,” Jiménez added. “We have worked diligently with the Puerto Rico Tourism Company to implement this prevention program, and we have thoroughly trained all hotel staff. Through this training, all hotel staff are well-versed on how to knowledgably advise guests concerned about zika,” she continued. “Our guest’s safety is our top priority.”
Michael Herrmann, general manager of the InterContinental San Juan, echoed Jiménez’s sentiments: “As a responsible business, we have the duty to inform our guests and clients about our efforts to provide a safe environment for their enjoyment. For us, it is extremely important to let them know that we have implemented specific actions to mitigate and control the spread of the Aedes aegypti mosquito on our property in order to prevent the zika virus.”
“In addition,” continued Herrmann, “we are echoing the official communications of Meet Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico Tourism Company through our social media channels, in order to let our audience know that Puerto Rico is a safe place to visit.”
Chinese Agree to Complete Bahamas Megaresort
Bahamas Prime Minister, Perry Christie announced during the 2016/2017 Budget Communication in the House of Assembly, recently, that an agreement to remobilize the construction and completion of the multi-billion dollar Baha Mar Resort has been reached and work is expected to resume soon.
Christie said the Export-Import Bank of China has agreed to finance the project with China Construction America (CCA), a subsidiary of China State Construction Engineering Company (CSCEC), completing the project, which has long sat in receivership. He did not disclose any timelines for resumption of construction or how much it would cost to complete the project, but he said the details should become apparent in the near future. Christie said the agreement was reached over two days of meetings in Beijing, China.
Attorney General Allyson Maynard Gibson and Sir Baltron Bethel, represented the government’s interests in the negotiations, Christie said. There was no mention of developer Sarkis Izmirlian during the prime minister’s presentation.
“The Baha Mar matter is of significance to the Bahamas and the government of the Bahamas. The government has never deviated from our position that Bahamian contractors must benefit from the project. Nothing will distract the government from providing jobs and opportunities for the Bahamian people,” Christie said.
A first round of bids for buyers interested in purchasing the mega-development is complete and there are a number of “reputable” investors involved, he added. The prime minister did not disclose any names of reportedly interested buyers. He also assured local contractors that the government will fight for them to be re-engaged and that consideration is being given to settling the debts owed to Bahamian creditors.
Christie, responding to reports that the Chinese government made a number of requests, including 500 Bahamian citizenships for its citizens in exchange for the investment, told House members the government is not in the business of selling citizenships and it simply does not arise. He also noted that the government could not legally give any investor anything outside the scope of what the Atlantis Resort has received.