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Organic farming: offering women entrepreneurs access to high-value niche markets

Technical scientific article

In order to meet the market demand for coconut products in Samoa, WIBDI has created a database to record an accurate count of the availability of goods

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Organic agriculture in ACP regions is improving the livelihoods of women farmers, who are selling high value products to global niche markets. Two examples, from Jamaica and Samoa, illustrate the scope for organic agriculture to empower women agripreneurs to change local practices to benefit livelihoods and the environment.

The production of organic virgin coconut oil has given women farmers in Samoa a lifeline in a country where land is limited for extensive agriculture.Women in Business DevelopmentInc. (WIBDI), a business development organisation in Samoa that has been supported by CTA, helps women – and other family members – to run income-generating projects. In particular, WIBDI provides skills and leadership training in organic farming, and links farmers to global markets for high-end organic products. Working across 183 villages in Samoa, WIBDI has promoted and supported organic certification of agricultural enterprises, helping to put more than €200,000 in the hands of farmers annually.

Going global

By empowering women with the skills to grow and process virgin coconut oil, and by helping them to obtain certification as organic producer, Taaloga Apa, WIBDI senior programme manager, says her organisation has helped to tap the potential of women practising organic farming. “We have taken the virgin coconut oil to global markets like The Body Shop in the UK, which is one of our major sources of income for virgin coconut oil,” says Apa. The British-based cosmetics, skincare and perfume company has been buying the oil from Samoa since 2008 and farmers receive 80% of the proceeds. WIBDI has also formed a marketing partnership with a top-end coffee café chain, C1Espresso in New Zealand.

“The Body Shop has realised that, by buying the virgin oil from Samoa, they are helping smallholder farmers whose lives have been changed through organic farming,” states Apa. “The Body Shop has looked at the quality of the oil, since our oil is quite expensive, but they chose quality and are interested in supporting our work with the farmers.”

Quality, not quantity

WIBDI – a business association - is transforming into a social enterprise to generate profits from development programmes that include promoting other organic products, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, and coffee. With support from CTA, the organisation has participated in business fairs and policy meetings around the world to promote its work on organic agriculture.

“WIBDI’s work with farmers is all organic and, for small islands, this is happening in a strong way, given the competition in organic farming from Australia and New Zealand,” emphasises Isolina Boto, the CTA lead on agribusiness development. “If you cannot compete on quantity, you compete on quality and value addition, and this is what WIBDI has done successfully, and integrated the community in the process,” she adds. “They have also diversified their product range and markets from local to global, offering value added products including dried bananas, fresh fruit and vegetables, and coffee, as well as artefacts and soaps.”

Certified Caribbean coffee

Organic coffee for global markets is also being produced by Jamaican farmers, which is helping to create jobs and improve income. One such producer is Dorienne Rowan-Campbell, owner and chief executive officer of Rowan's Royale Coffee. Rowan-Campbell produces and exports the famous Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee from seed to cup to international markets in Europe, Japan and North America.

“Organic farming is the only type of farming that is led by principles about equity, fairness and working with the environment ... and, for me, that is the most important thing in farming, because it says you are building a sustainable future,” says Rowan-Campbell, a trained organic inspector and certification coordinator for the Jamaica Organic Agriculture Movement established in 2001. The Movement has since trained 150 Caribbean women farmers in organic farming. “Globally we are finding that people want organic, and the interest in organic coffee shows entrepreneurs are prepared to follow the standards. In Jamaica, women self-select to go into organic farming saying they want to secure the health of their communities, while men see it as a good business proposition. Organic works.” She continues, “So I have started with coffee but very soon, I will have ginger and turmeric because I feel, with climate change, I have to plant so that when a hurricane hits my coffee, I have something below ground, I can also rely on. I am encouraging the farmers around me to be more innovative, to diversify and not to cut down almost every tree. Coffee is a forest product, it needs shade, and it needs shade more and more as the days get hotter with less rain.”

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