At a time when Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries are coming under increasing pressure to significantly lower an estimated US4 billion annual food import bill a Cdn$20 million initiative is set to forge new links between several regional farming communities and major buyers of fresh produce—like supermarkets and hotels—in the Caribbean that could present a major part of the solution to the food import problem.
The Canadian Hunger Foundation (CHF) and its regional office CHF Caribbean have initiated the ‘Promotion of Regional Opportunities for Produce through Enterprises and Linkages’ (PROPEL) Project which will run over a six-year period. At its core the project will seek to strengthen links between farmers in eight named Caricom countries and some of the more lucrative markets for fresh foods in the region.
Guyana is among the countries from which 28,000 farmers will be identified to work with the project. The other countries listed as participants are Jamaica, St Lucia, Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada.
While Guyana’s traditionally aggressive agricultural drive has meant that the country’s food import bill is significantly lower than those of its sister Caricom countries, its participation in the project will provide it with greater access to the regional market, a facility which is allowed for under the project.
Despite the hundreds of small and medium-sized farmers in the region, “some countries currently import more than 90% of their fresh produce. In Grenada, for instance, only 2.5% of fresh produce served in hotels is locally grown,” says Stewart Hardacre, President and CEO of the Canadian Hunger Foundation (CHF). Hardacre says that the high percentage of fresh food imports is “bad for Caribbean producers and inefficient for major buyers here.” He says the project would seek to “help ensure that more of the fresh produce consumed in the Caribbean comes from Caribbean farms.”
Currently small and medium-sized farms, processors and other related businesses in the Caribbean struggle to access regional markets estimated to be worth US$50 million to $100 million annually in view of shifting market conditions and reliability challenges related to meeting the quality, quantity and food safety requirements of major buyers on a year-round basis.
Setting aside the fact that the CHF and its local partner will be seeking to help 28,000 regional farmers access new markets, the project will also help the agricultural sectors in participating countries to raise their quality, quantity and safety standards of their products and increase the business management skills of farmers and agro-processors. Participating farmers will benefit from access to credit through the project.
A key component of the project will be the collaborative work with the major regional buyers to secure their patronage of farmers supported by the project.
As part of the project a Caribbean Produce Marketing Corporation (CPMC) will be established to serve as a broker between farmers and large buyers, taking orders from buyers and issuing contracts for the supply of fresh produce of a particular quality and quantity to be delivered at a specific time.
The project targets an increase in the absorption of fresh Caribbean produce into high-value national, regional, and international markets by Cdn$100 million by 2018.