Press reports indicate the composition of Suriname’s fruit and vegetable exports is changing. Exports of vegetable products such as sopropo (bitter melon), Boulanger (aubergine) and pomtajer (a root crop) have increased between 2007 and 2011 while exports of other vegetables such as ochre, cassava and leafy green vegetables have decreased. Overall a marginal increase in the volume of vegetable exports has occurred (+4%). This contrasts sharply with the decline in the volume of fruit exports, which have declined by more than 50% between 2007 and 2011. There are no indications that 2012 has seen any reversal of this trend.
Identified constraints on exports of fruit and vegetables from Suriname include: ‘the small scale of production, poor product quality, residue/MRL problems, lack of a cold chain and lack of certification at production level (GLOBALGAP)’. These problems need to be seen against the backdrop of increasingly demanding consumer standards on both the EU and CARICOM markets.
A number of priorities for investment to support fruit and vegetable export development in Suriname have been identified, including:
- the modernisation of all aspects of agricultural production, with a focus on improving quality and underlying productivity;
- the promotion of better compliance with marketing standards in the EU and internationally, including through promoting increased certification, improved product packaging and handling and the creation of efficient cold store chains.
This is seen as requiring greater farmer education. It is felt that if basic quality requirements can be met then this can provide a platform for strengthened marketing initiatives.
Agriculture, dominated by rice and banana production, has always been an important sector in the Suriname economy. As with the rest of CARICOM, sectoral output has been declining over the last 25 years. However the 2007-2009 global food crisis saw renewed policy emphasis placed on agriculture, with priority accorded to meeting local food demand and a relatively lower priority accorded to production for export.
The fruit and vegetable sector was an important component of this renewed focus on agriculture. Production is largely undertaken by small and part-time farmers utilising very labour-intensive and rudimentary methods. Within these constraints, with the support of government and NGOS some success has been enjoyed in the field of organic horticultural production. In 2011-12, for example, the production of organic chilli peppers in line with EU standards was increased, opening up new export opportunities.
Organic vegetable production and exports are expected to be boosted by the establishment of an organic certification process led by the Suriname Bureau of Standards and the development of a clear brand identify under the Wroko Nanga Koni project, led by the Caribbean Institute.
Agricultural modernisation is also receiving increased attention with the introduction of Low-Cost Protected Agriculture Systems aimed at improving irrigation and drainage and thereby extending the production season. It is expected that training provided in the use of liquid and solid substrates in greenhouse vegetable production systems will also contribute to a recovery in the vegetable sector and enhance marketing and trading opportunities.
However the government will need to increase efforts to reverse the long standing decline in extension service provision and support the development of more integrated supply chains, capable of meeting modern consumer demands.