The small size and remote locations of small island developing states (SIDS) in the Caribbean and Pacific make it critical for small-scale producers and agri-processors to be part of efficient value chains. On the second day of the Caribbean and Pacific Agri-Food Forum, being held in Barbados from 2 to 6 November 2015, participants explored innovative solutions to help drive the agri-food sector in island locations, and enable communities to face serious challenges such as climate change, nutrition-related disease and uncertain food security.
The five-day event, the first of its kind, is being organised by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), together with the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), with the support of the Intra-ACP Agricultural Policy Programme.
Value chains can ensure that the benefits and risks of agricultural production are shared between a range of players, sessions at the meeting heard. An effective value chain will link supply and demand and connect farmers to markets, providing them with critical support and services and enabling them to achieve economies of scale, so that buyers can be confident of having regular streams of reliable, quality products.
"The key problems facing island communities in the Caribbean and Pacific cannot be addressed without collaboration and collective action. Small-scale farmers cannot be expected to stand alone," said Juan Cheaz, Senior Programme Coordinator for Agricultural Policy and Value Chains at CTA. "A value chain helps to establish win-win relationships between different actors involved in agricultural production. The small size of SIDS means there must be cooperation between actors, from farm to fork, and support in helping rural actors to deal with issues of climate change, as well as food and nutrition security."
The Caribbean Value Chain Alliance, launched with CTA support in June this year to bring together producers and buyers, is working to create an enabling environment and help farmers access markets in the roots and tubers sector for export, and in the fruit and vegetable sector for regional markets, especially the hotel trade. Aside from CTA, members of the alliance include the Caribbean Farmers Network (CaFAN), the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS), the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) and the Agricultural Society of Trinidad and Tobago (ASTT), with the Sandals Foundation representing the private sector.
"The value chain approach is critical for the development of agriculture because it seeks to manage and develop the whole process, from primary production to the market," said Senator Norman Grant, who is President of JAS and Chairman of CaFAN, as well as Managing Director of Jamaican coffee factory MavisBank. "For example, we use the value chain system to help get better prices and conditions for the 4,500 coffee farmers who supply our factory. Value chains can also help to resolve a lot of the binding constraints that farmers face, such as lack of markets, finance, poor infrastructure, crop insurance and the whole issue of climate change."
Climate change is a key issue being addressed during the Forum. Both the Caribbean and Pacific islands are highly vulnerable to changing weather patterns, including drought, erratic rainfall and rising sea levels, and the effects are already making themselves felt on agricultural production. A workshop on Building Partnerships and Alliances to Scale up Climate-Smart and Adaptation Solutions in the Caribbean is identifying some of the options available to small-scale farmers and exploring how effective strategies can be rolled out to benefit more of them.
"We have brought together stakeholders and experts on climate change in the Caribbean and SIDS to identify specific solutions that have worked for farmers and fisherfolk and investigate how to scale them up to trigger wider adoption," said Oluyede Ajayi, Senior Programme Coordinator for ARD Policy at CTA. "This is the time to look at the big picture, to put on the hat of the farmer and fisherfolk, focusing primarily on 'how do we help farmers and fisherfolk who are out there and who have to deal with climate change as they pursue their means of livelihood on a daily basis'."
As part of an ongoing commitment to exploring the link between agriculture and nutrition, CTA has commissioned rapid scans of the current situation in Haiti, St Lucia and Suriname, as well as country studies in Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and the Solomon Islands. These were presented and discussed during a workshop on the Agriculture Nutrition Nexus and the Way Forward.
"The two regions face similar nutrition-related health challenges, with very high levels of noncommunicable diseases such as obesity and diabetes, related to an over-reliance on processed imported foods of low nutritional value," said Howard Aru, Director General at the Vanuatu Ministry of Agriculture. "There is a strong potential for inter- and intra-regional cross-learning, as well as for developing joint nutrition action agendas. Education and information will be an important part of any strategy aimed at reversing the current very worrying trend."
During a workshop on access to finance, experts drawn from the public and private sectors spoke of the challenges facing small-scale farmers needing to obtain credit to take their agricultural production up to the next level. Lack of collateral, coupled with a reluctance to lend to farmers on the part of commercial banks are significant barriers, the session heard. One solution developed by Banco Adopem, a microfinance institute working in the Dominican Republic, involves tailor-making credit arrangements for small-scale farmers, supporting loans with training in a range of areas. The bank is currently working with CTA to develop value chain programmes for the plantain and banana sectors.
"We are working together on technical issues, such as how to integrate producers' organisations into value chains and how to make value chains climate resilient," said Mariano Frontera Martinez, Production Coordinator for Banco Adopem. "You need to give farmers support, aside from credit. We also go to the client rather than waiting for the client to come to us. We go into the field and we organise the collection of repayments by visiting them. Farmers are located in rural areas, so if the bank goes to them, it means they save time and can devote more of their attention to looking after their crops and their harvest."