Boosting sustainable and profitable value chains offers the best prospects for driving a dynamic agriculture sector in the Caribbean. A series of workshops held in the run-up to the Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2016 heard that a range of initiatives is already producing encouraging results. Aimed at improving food security and increasing rural incomes, the strategy also seeks to reduce the Caribbean’s soaring food import bill, which is currently more than US$4 billion per year, and forecast to more than double by 2020.
Together with various partners, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) has drawn up a three-year programme to develop value chains in the region, with expected direct benefits for up to 3,000 Caribbean farmers.
Working with the Caribbean Farmers Network (CaFAN) and Caribbean hotel chain the Sandals Foundation, CTA is helping small-scale producers and other players in value chains to become organised and upgrade products, processes and productivity to match market demands. As a result, smallholders have significantly improved their chances of profiting from domestic, regional and international markets, including the flourishing tourism and hospitality trade.
A number of producer groups are already linking up with hotel buyers. Examples include members of the Barbados Agricultural Society, who are supplying fruit and vegetables to Sandals hotels and an association of women farmers in Grenada, who are drawing up agreements to sell agrifood products to hotels in their country.
An important focus of the value chain strategy involves supporting producers in accessing key business development services, such as inputs, value addition and especially finance, lack of which poses a major constraint for agricultural development. With support from finance NGO the Finance Alliance for Sustainable Trade (FAST), CTA is forging links between smallholder enterprises and financial institutions in the region, and offering mentoring for the most promising enterprises on how to access finance.
"We have seen the challenge faced by many agri-small and medium enterprises to comply with the requirements for being considered bankable by financial institutions," said Noemi Perez, President and CEO of FAST. "We see great potential in initiatives that are providing agri-SMEs with a comprehensive framework of support, including improvements in production, marketing, and business development."
In the Dominican Republic, a partnership between CTA and private bank ADOPEM, which considers agriculture as a potential growth area, is making responsible, productive finance available to small-scale producers.
Meanwhile, ICTs for agriculture are being harnessed to support value chain and agribusiness development, helping to attract young people to the sector in the process. In Barbados, an ICT system called Crop Guard, which won second place at the CTA Hackathon context in 2014, is an agriculture app that seeks to improve food security by helping farmers to protect their crops through pest diagnosis, monitoring and control. In Grenada, a cloud-based crop forecasting software system is improving the quality and reliability of food product supplies from small-scale producers, as well as providing assurances to buyers over food safety.
"The aim of this system is to predict what's in the field," said Ruel Edwards, CEO of the National Marketing and Importing Board of Grenada, which launched the system. "It enables value chains to provide regular supplies. No consumers in hotels or restaurants want to be told there's no cantaloupe on the menu, because the farmers hasn't been able to supply the crop."
Challenges remain coordinating single success stories and scaling them up to achieve regional impact.
"A number of initiatives are currently being conducted on the ground in the Caribbean, to support smallholder value chain actors, in terms of production, processing, post-harvest management and marketing," said Juan Cheaz, CTA Senior Programme Coordinator for Agricultural Policy and Value Chains. "Now we need to ensure that the separate programmes work collectively, so that we can scale these up into a regional effort to have wider-reaching outcomes."
The Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2016 is being held from October 26 to 28 in the Cayman Islands. It is jointly organised by CTA, the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).
Stéphane Gambier, Senior Programme Coordinator, Communications (CTA)
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