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Investing in Caribbean sweet potatoes

July 20, 2017

CTA and the Finance Alliance for Sustainable Trade (FAST) have launched an investment guide for the sweet potato sector in Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) countries as part of a wider project to assist small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the region and help them obtain finance.

Traditional financial institutions in the Caribbean only invest a small percentage of their portfolio in the agricultural sector, yet there is an attractive enabling environment for investment in some countries. To raise awareness of the promising opportunities of sweet potato investment among investors, the guide provides information on the increasing demand for sweet potatoes worldwide, cycles of production and added value of growing sweet potatoes, and local governments' efforts to promote production. The guide also details the range of risks associated with investment in the region, and basic recommendations for how they could be addressed.

Global sweet potato markets are thriving and demand high market prices with potentially lucrative returns to stakeholders if high efficiency is obtained along the value chain. The European market for sweet potatoes is relatively small but growing considerably, suggesting an interesting market opportunity for CARIFORUM sweet potato agribusinesses. In addition to increasing worldwide demand, the guide also states that sweet potatoes are a good investment because the region has good export relationships with major consumers, and a tradition of growing the plant. A will from local governments to increase agricultural production, good climate conditions, and a soil quality that permits production of up to three crops per year, also showcases the favourable conditions for agriculture in the region, while common languages, a high financial institution presence, and strong credit information sharing all emphasise the ease of doing business in the Caribbean.

Caribbean governments want to diversify away from traditional sectors such as tourism, rum, bananas, and sugar, and diversification into sweet potato production takes advantage of Caribbean countries' structures for agriculture production and their already established trade relationships with global importers of sweet potatoes. If sweet potato output from local idle land were maximised through access to adequate resources and technology, it would provide a significant boost to the economies of the region. However, to capitalise on this growth, farmers need to obtain financing to improve production infrastructure and acquire inputs, ultimately expanding their production levels profitably. The guide particularly identifies the need for investment in cultivation and irrigation equipment, climate change adaptation technology, and to enable value chain integration. Farmers also need innovative financing mechanisms that take their production cycles into account, which will also benefit other members of the value chain, including those who provide input and machinery.

Ultimately, the aim of the guide is to promote responsible investment that benefits SMEs and helps the region access export markets. An investment can decide the future of a farm and the family it supports, as well as modelling good practices for the broader community in which it is situated. It can also ensure that land is used in a way that is economically, environmentally and socially responsible.

FAST hopes to continue its partnership with CTA and create a lasting impact for agricultural SMEs in CARIFORUM countries by supporting them and by helping them gain access to financing to improve their businesses and livelihoods.

For more information on the sweet potato investment guide, please visit: http://www.cta.int/en/news/investing-in-caribbean-agriculture.html