Black Belt farmers, HBCUs may find role in international trade and agribusiness

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Editor’s Note: The Sixth Annual Florida International Trade and Cultural Expo 2021 was held November 17-18 in Fort Lauderdale, Broward County, Fla. Part I concerns providing opportunities in international trade for African American farmers and their supporting institutions. Part II will cover economic development and investment opportunities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Part I:
Black farmers, HBCUs, co-ops, and agribusiness interests scattered across the Black Belt may soon find themselves elevated to the international stage of trade and exchange, if Broward County Florida Commissioner Dale V. C. Holness has his way. While closing out the Nov. 17-18 Sixth Annual Florida International Trade and Cultural Expo (FITCE) 2021, Holness, the founding father of the prestigious conference that attracts over 60 nations to Fort Lauderdale annually, invited the Jackson Advocate to join in on a conference call with him and five other key participants. The conversation took place shortly after noon on Friday, November 19. Legacy Magazine’s Public Official of the Year for 2017, Holness, the former mayor of Broward County, said that he had founded FITCE in 2014 as a way to bring the nations of Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Africa to do business and present cultural exhibits in Broward County.

Over the life of the expo, a growing number of “high-level government leaders, international trade experts, and delegations from around the world” have found their way to the event. At least 60 countries are represented among the 2,000 people who come each year from around the world. During Friday’s conference call, the question of what involvement, if any, Black farmers, potential investors in agribusiness, and institutions from the Black Belt might have in an international event like FITCE. Holness and several others on the call pointed out that the is-
sues had been discussed during some of the sessions. “I believe we ought to look to see how we can make this a part of FITCE 2022,” Holness said.

Holness said that mega farms and multinational corporations dominate agriculture markets worldwide. “Without food we cannot survive,” he said. “But all too often Black farmers aren’t in the mix. “They contribute the labor and grow the crops, but the profitability created from the trade of these agri-products doesn’t reach them.” Holness pointed out that because of race discrimination in all sectors of the American economy, over $16 trillion (yes, trillion) has been lost in the past 20 years. “City Financial, the big bank, did a study released last September that showed that over the past 20 years, America lost 16 trillion dollars in potential growth in our GDP, or potential output, because of racial inequities in our nation,” he said.

The study also showed that if the racist practices were eliminated, the economy could grow by another $5 trillion. Putting this issue at the forefront of international business is a major step, he said.

The five FITCE participants with Holness during the interview were: Alexandra Davis, Commissioner of the City of Miramar and a candidate for Broward County Commission; Shaheewa Jarrett, Broward Black Chamber of Commerce president; Elizabeth K. T, Sackey, Mayor of Accra, Ghana; Phillip N. A. Sackey, Executive Assistant to Accra mayor; and Donna Scantlebury, Regional Director of Sister Cities International. Two additional experts on the agricultural potential of the Democratic Republic of the Congo – DeWayne “Dewey” Boyd and Dr. Annie Kinwa-Muzinga, Professor of Agribusiness at Morningstar University in Iowa – also contributed to the discussion in separate interviews the day following the conference call.

Speaking on behalf of the mayor of Accra, who was engaged in another meeting, her assistant Phillip Sackey said,“This has been a great opportunity for her in acquiring knowledge in the field of agriculture. Since we have been here, we have found a lot of opportunities for trade and investment. Accra has a lot of opportunities that we can offer. And the mayor of Accra is very happy about that.” Chamber of Commerce president Jarrett had been working on the issue of Black Belt participation only days before. She indicated that a number of Black Chambers of Commerce have formed a regional council that encompasses the states of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, as well as Georgia. “Our Chambers are looking at how we can take advantage of every business opportunity,” she said. “Agribusiness and Afrotourism is something we have been targeting and talking about, so I’d be more than willing to help in bridging this gap with our Black farmers and our other Black businesses that could help out in this area.”

Alexandra Davis has worked closely with Holness from her earliest decision to enter the political arena in Miramar/Broward County. “Dale has been a great mentor to me,” Davis said. He had included her on a trade mission to Ghana in 2020, her first such mission, she said “It was a great, great mission,” she said. “We found a lot of good prospects there in Ghana.” She thanked Holness for preparing a pathway into public service for her and other talented Black professionals.

“If I am fortunate enough to be elected to the county commission,” she said, “I hope to follow in your great footsteps and have as part of FITCE that agricultural component that I think will be a huge one in 2022,” she said. The Sister Cities project has also been developing new ideas that will possibly incorporate the Black Belt farmer into the international mix, said Donna Scantlebury. “It is a topic we spoke about Thursday regarding Ghana, agriculture, and the Black farmer. We are looking at agriculture as economic development. We spoke about bringing in our Black farmers from Central America.”

Costa Rica has a branch of Earth University, founded by former President Jimmy Carter, she said. “This university is special because so many of its graduates have become ministers of agriculture, because they’re so good. Presently, I think nine graduates of Costa Rica’s University Earth are ministers of Agriculture in Africa. I spoke with them earlier this year about forming a relationship regarding agriculture in Central America, Africa and the United States. That’s something that Sister Cities is currently working on. I’m very excited that you brought that up.” Sister Cities has been one of the most effective organizations in establishing ongoing relationships between majority Afro-American cities and their African counterparts.

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Black Belt farmers, HBCUs may find role in international trade and agribusiness

By Earnest McBride
December 2, 2021