Offshore produce industry standing the test of time
by Tad Thompson | January 24, 2011
The U.S. government formally launched the unilateral Caribbean Basin
Initiative in 1984. President Ronald Reagan's goal was to counter the appeal
of communism in Central America and the Caribbean islands by bolstering
the economies of the countries in those regions.
The theory was that if people were profitably employed they would be
disinterested in taking up arms to effect a change of government. Given the
region’s climate and geographic resources, agricultural development was a
Agronomists and ag marketing specialists were paid well to visit all corners of
the area. These specialists carried business cards bearing a litany of acronyms
that all ultimately were funded by Uncle Sam.
It benefited from the abundance of foreign development money to tour many
of these sites, meet countless growers and see their projects.
All these years later, at industry events — particularly Agritrade, which will
again be held in Antigua, Guatemala, March 17-18 — many familiar, but
increasingly lined, faces will be present.
The businesses of these people, who are predominantly men, have greatly
matured. There is a never-ending interest in developing direct sales to buyers
in the United States. Some of those deals have occurred. But the formula of
exporting to marketing agencies in south Florida has endured since the
initiative was launched.
The refrigerated ocean container steamship line, Crowley Holdings Inc.,
indicates in the Jan. 31-Feb. 14 issue of The Produce News that it brings 600
containers a week from the Caribbean in its peak shipping season, which is
Those are staggering numbers of fresh produce imports. And those are the
numbers of just one shipping line.
Crowley and this industry segment enjoy a 12-month deal. Guatemala’s
volcanoes provide many elevations and microclimates. This — and the
country’s countless skilled manual laborers — never cease to keep North
American produce departments green.
There are obvious merits in growing produce for export in the Caribbean
Would the offshore industry have developed professionally with simply the
entrepreneurial leadership of that region’s businessmen? Most certainly.
Was the United States taxpayers’ investment well-spent? The international
development efforts undoubtedly expedited what would likely have transpired
Whatever the background, it is exciting to see the maturation of a young
industry, in which businesses are filling consumer needs with healthy, safe