Prosperity

30 years

Economic opportunities for rural women

They may be thousands of kilometres apart, but the Caribbean and Pacific regions have much in common – particularly when it comes to the challenges facing rural women, and the potential that they can unleash.

Convinced of the scope for tapping the two sectors of agriculture and tourism, CTA and partners have been exploring ways of creating economic opportunities that can benefit rural communities and enhance sustainable development for the islands.

In a number of areas there are many commonalities between islands, including challenges because of remoteness, small-scale economies, dependence on a few export products and very little diversification. Some countries in the same region are more advanced than others and they can really learn from each other. There has also been interest in the two regions working together to target markets for common products, such as virgin coconut oil.

CTA  has placed special focus on supporting  women in the Caribbean and Pacific, and examining ways of encouraging them to develop small-scale businesses, learning from each other and from their peers in island states on the other side of the world.

Over the past 18 months, CTA and partners have brought together Caribbean and Pacific businesses, producers, experts and public and private sector representatives on a number of occasions to discuss how to strengthen economic gains for women involved in the agriculture and rural sectors. At the Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2013 (CWA), held in Guyana, women producers and entrepreneurs interacted with Caribbean and Pacific Ministers of Agriculture in order to engage the voices of women entrepreneurs at high policy level and in key policy processes.

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A one-day Women´s Forum held as part of CWA, set out to discuss economic opportunities for women in the Caribbean and Pacific, develop an Inter-Regional Action Plan for Caribbean-Pacific collaboration and a Caribbean Action Plan for Economic Empowerment of Women. A key goal was sensitising Caribbean Ministers of Agriculture and Pacific Ministerial delegations on the support needed for women’s farmers and entrepreneurs. Specifically, the forum sought to find ways of linking smallholder farmers to local markets, strengthen inter-regional linkages, link local and regional production to the tourism industry and boost agrotourism, especially for women entrepreneurs. The event involved showcasing specific value chain sectors, where women have been successful in launching rural enterprises.

Sharing knowledge and experiences

The Women´s Forum was a follow-up to SEED CAP (Supporting Economic Empowerment and Development in the Caribbean and Pacific), which was held in Montego Bay, Jamaica in July 2013. Other initiatives focusing on opportunities for women entrepreneurs in the Caribbean and Pacific were held, with CTA support, at the CGIAR system-IFPRI Conference 2020 in 2013 in Ethiopia. The issue will also be highlighted as part of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Conference, to be held in Samoa in September 2014.  

“Very often, women are associated with small-scale farming, working in fields, with no added value. We wanted to support the entrepreneurship side and see what could be replicated and upscaled when there are successes, so we can share them as widely as possible,” said Isolina Boto, who heads CTA’s Brussels office. “And also to investigate what kind of support they needed. We have focused on the Caribbean and Pacific because there are many commonalities.” 

Identifying new economic opportunities is central to the strategy, with the goal of promoting diversification and linking agriculture to other productive sectors, such as tourism and ICTs. Agrotourism, and especially food tourism, has been pinpointed as having strong potential for women entrepreneurs in the Caribbean and Pacific. A growing sector, it can include farm and vineyard tours, farm stays and visits to agricultural processing and plantation activities, together with agriculture fairs and festivals. Tourism activities linked to farming systems and local food can support rural livelihoods and help to foster a more community-inclusive model of tourism development. Both the Caribbean and Pacific are ideally placed to take advantage of agrotourism based on organic production systems, especially given their extensive and largely unspoilt coastal and marine resources.

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To drive growth in this sector, especially among women, CTA is supporting exchange of knowledge and information on policies and best practices in agrotourism. A number of successful agrotourism businesses are already run by women in the Caribbean and Pacific region. Cases in point include the Belmonte Estate in Grenada. By documenting success stories, many of them involving women, CTA and partners are confident that other women will be inspired to follow their example.

The case studies highlight quality products, increased market access and regional branding, such as organic and niche markets, analysing the drivers of success so that they can be replicated.  CTA, IICA and CARICOM are currently documenting success stories for specific sectors and value chains in nine Caribbean countries, examining how they are linked to the tourism industry, how market access has been improved, how much income has increased, how women entrepreneurs have been able to network and make further links with the business and financial sector and how their management skills have been improved. Plans are in hand to conduct a similar exercise for the Pacific. At the SIDS conference, CTA will showcase three success stories involving women entrepreneurs, presenting the key players in each case to show who has contributed to the success, and how.

Professional networks

In partnership with IICA, CTA is providing capacity building to knowledge networks and key organisations such as the Caribbean Network of Rural Women Producers (CANROP) and the Women in Business in Development Inc (WIBDI) in the Pacific. The idea is to strengthen the networks – increasing membership and improving governance – provide a platform to exchange business opportunities and offer training in business management and financial literacy, advocacy and negotiating skills.  

The impact has already started to make itself felt. CTA has allowed Caribbean and Pacific women entrepreneurs to share experiences, particularly in agritourism and organic farming. The Centre is assisting the CANROP network in assessing its current communication and knowledge management approach and improving networking across the membership, particularly with the use of online tools. As a result, a number of CANROP women entrepreneurs have now been invited to key trade and agribusiness events in the region.

“It’s always a struggle to influence policy, so CTA believes that one way is to strengthen groups so that they can carry out their own advocacy,” explains Boto. “By strengthening groups which are economically viable they can make their own voices heard. This was something that was entirely missing, so we have helped to bridge that gap.”