Two decades ago, countries belonging to the Caribbean Community imported 54% of their food. Since then, food imports have risen dramatically. To counter this trend, Caribbean countries have pledged to increase domestic food production and reduce their reliance on foreign food. Among the key players in this story will be the region’s smallholder farmers, who constitute about a fifth of the labour force and frequently suffer from low productivity, poor marketing and high levels of poverty.
CTA’s interventions in the Caribbean are designed to improve agricultural value chains and help smallholders increase their productivity and income. A major component of CTA’s Caribbean programme, which comprises a range of projects in countries across the region, including Barbados, Grenada and the Dominican Republic, focuses on building sustainable and profitable value chains.
In 2017, the Barbados Agricultural Society implemented a project to help small-scale producers improve the efficiency of their farms and the marketing of their produce. The project involved 12 workshops, most of which used the farmer field schools approach. The workshops introduced 240 individuals, from 86 Barbados households, to a wide range of topics, including good agricultural practices, the importance of record keeping and appropriate cultivation methods.
“The workshops also helped farmers to gain a better understanding of how to satisfy the needs of the market,” says Juan Cheaz, who was responsible for managing CTA’s operations in the Caribbean prior to his departure in August 2017. “If value chains are to work efficiently, farmers need to know exactly what specification buyers want.”
In Grenada, CTA support enabled the Marketing and National Importing Board to undertake a number of activities to build sustainable and profitable agricultural value chains. The project launch in May 2017 was attended by over 200 people, half of whom were farmers. An external consultant was hired to increase the number of items included in the island’s Produce Specification Manual. This now provides details of the 40 items traded in Grenada, for which there is a strong market demand.
The Grenada project also focused on creating a more efficient value chain between producers and the hospitality sector to boost income from agritourism. Increasing the use of ICTs by farmers and others involved in the production, marketing and sale of food was also a priority.
Another key component of CTA’s Caribbean programme aims to increase access to agri-finance. In the Dominican Republic, a partnership between CTA and Banco ADOPEM – a micro-finance institution with some 400,000 clients and a loan portfolio worth US$126 million – is helping smallholder banana and plantain farmers to gain access to financial services.
The partnership also helps farmers acquire the skills, tools and technology required to penetrate and consistently supply new and more profitable markets. During its first three months of operation in 2016, over 200 producers were trained to meet standards required for the export market, such as GlobalGAP certification. Two associations also received training in management and financial procedures, and over 150 producers were provided with rural financial education. As a result, 66 small-scale producers gained access to credit.
During 2017, the programme continued to improve smallholder farmers’ position in the value chain through greater access to micro-credit, as well as through technical training in harvest and post-harvest management and soil nutrition.
The success of Banco Adopem in reaching out to smallholder farmers in all corners of the Dominican Republic was recognised by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), when it received the Inter-American award for financial and entrepreneurial innovation. The award, granted by the IDB’s Multilateral Investment Fund, is among the most prestigious honours for this particular sector in the region.