Caribbean agriculture was then in a state of crisis. Its contribution to GDP was steadily declining, and would fall from 4.8% of GDP in 2000 to just over 3% in 2006. The Caribbean imported 90% of its food requirements, and many of the region’s smallholder farmers, who constitute around a fifth of the labour force, suffered from low productivity, poor marketing and high levels of poverty. Although many islands had their own national farmers’ organisation, there was little or no cooperation between them.
Shortly after the Trinidad workshop, the executive director of CARDI got in touch with Jethro. “He said: ‘Since you initiated this idea, why don’t you take it over?’” Jethro replied that he didn’t have the resources to establish a new organisation; but these – thanks to CTA and CARDI – were soon made available. The East Caribbean Trading Agriculture and Development Organization (ECTAD), managed by Jethro from an office in Kingstown, St Vincent, took on the role of secretariat.
Empowering small-scale farmers
“At the outset, we decided to focus on small-scale farmers – 90% of farmers in the Caribbean have less than 5 acres – and pay particular attention to the needs of women and young people,” says Jethro. “And we initially chose to work on non-contentious issues which would bring people together; unite not divide.” This was particularly important as old enmities between islands in the Caribbean often hindered regional cooperation. CaFAN now provides a voice for over 20 farmers’ organisations in 15 countries, which between them represent some 500,000 individuals.
CaFAN’s main programmes involve sharing information and knowledge; promoting food and nutritional security; encouraging the involvement of young people in agriculture; influencing national policy making; and helping farmers to improve their incomes through greater involvement in value chains.
“Improving marketing is now a key thrust of our work,” says Jethro. He is particularly proud of the success which ECTAD and CaFAN have had in improving farmers’ profits from various root crops. A decade or so ago, farmers were getting as little as US$0.25 a pound for their dasheen (Colocasia esculenta). This barely covered the costs of production. ECTAD linked farmers to new markets and ran a series of training sessions on post-harvest handling and packaging. Before long, farmers were getting US$0.70 a pound, and at times almost double that.
The dasheen trainings were among many supported by CTA. “CTA has been particularly important when it comes to the training of trainers,” says Cleve Scott, who works part-time for CaFAN as a project manager.
The first major CTA-funded training workshop, on the management of farmers’ associations, was held in Barbados in 2007. Twenty-three participants from 11 countries attended the workshop. Since then, CTA has supported many other training events covering a wide range of topics, from disaster management and risk assessment to post-harvest handling, marketing and the use of ICTs.
The impact is clear to see. Farmers’ organisations are now more efficiently managed and better led, and many farmers have improved their productivity and incomes. “I recently attended CTA training workshops on the use of ICTs and Web 2.0,” says Audrey Walters, a farmer from Sans Souci in St Vincent. “I found them extremely helpful, and I now have a much better idea about how I can use the Internet and mobile phone for business activities.” Since the training sessions, she has been sharing her new-found knowledge with other farmers who belong to the 30-strong Women in Agriculture for Rural Development (WARD) group she helped to found.
The spirit of partnership
CaFAN hopes to continue its relationship with CTA, not least because it appreciates the way CTA has provided support and advice. “We like CTA’s partnership approach to development,” says Jethro. “CTA believes in consultation, not dictation, and I think that’s one of the things that sets it apart from many donor organisations.”
Learn more about CTA’s initiatives with partners in the Caribbean