For at least the past 50 years, governments in the English speaking Caribbean have recognized the need for a regional research system to meet the increasingly complex challenges of agriculture. At first the responsibility fell upon the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA) which carried out both teaching and research functions. Special schemes were inaugurated in 1946/47 for regional research in Soils, Banana and Cocoa.
In 1955 a Regional Research Centre (RRC) was established. Its programme of research which had a heavy emphasis on the primary export crops was expanded to include: Food Crops, Plant Breeding, Stored Products, Herbicides and Statistics. In 1960 ICTA was merged with the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) to form the Faculty of Agriculture and the administration of RRC was transferred to the UCWI. The RRC was part of this arrangement when the UCWI became the University of the West Indies (UWI) by the Royal Charter of 1962. The RRC continued to be the responsibility of the Council of Ministers with a federal budgetary allocation.
The technical supervision of the RRC was effected through an Advisory Technical Committee comprised of representatives of Caribbean governments, the UWI and the government of the United Kingdom which contributed to the budget of the RRC.
In the late 1960’s, with withdrawal of British funding in view, RRC’s assets were vested in the University of the West Indies (UWI) and its staff were transferred to the Faculty of Agriculture. To all intents and purposes, RRC was integrated into the UWI.
The RRC became widely known for its work in the area of soil survey and the production of soil maps of the CARICOM countries. Its research on the traditional food crops such as pigeon pea, root crops and vegetables and its excellent work on pest, disease and weed management on vegetables and root crops were of the highest class.
Although member governments of the region recognized that RRC had made significant contributions to tropical agricultural research in general, they were not satisfied that its outreach activities were effective enough to allow for widespread contact of the researcher/extension/farmer complex to bring about significant changes at the grass roots level. Governments saw the need for an organization that would be more responsive to the research priorities that had shifted to food crops for local consumption and non-traditional commodities for export.
In the light of the committed policy objectives of the regional governments to the reorganization and diversification of agriculture and coupled with the inadequacy and high cost of agricultural scientists, it was felt that an organization with the competence (but probably not the roles) of the staff of the RRC had a major role to play in research as well as in regional agricultural development.
Therefore, the CARICOM Heads of Government (the highest decision making body in the sub-region) appointed a Mission to undertake an examination of “not only RRC, but of regional agricultural research in general.” This Mission was led by Dr Lewis Campbell (Head, Agricultural Division, Caribbean Development Bank) and comprised representatives of the Ministries of Agriculture of the RRC participating countries, Guyana and the CARICOM Secretariat.
The main recommendation of the Mission was that the RRC should be replaced by a new regional organization that would be separated financially and administratively from the UWI and be responsible to the CARICOM Standing Committee of Ministers of Agriculture.
The acceptance of this recommendation by CARICOM governments resulted in the formation of an agricultural research and development institute— autonomous and distinct from UWI. Thus, in 1975 CARDI—The Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute—was born.
In the broad objectives set out in the articles of agreement establishing CARDI, the Institute was charged with providing for the research and development needs of the agriculture of the region as identified in national plans and policies, as well as providing an appropriate research and development service to the agricultural sector of member countries.
At its inception, the 12 CARICOM the member countries signing the agreement establishing CARDI were: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts–Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago. These governments provided the funding for the Institute’s core budget according to an agreed formula, while funding for projects came from donor agencies.