In 2017, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced that the cost of importing food was set to rise to the tone of USD 1.143 trillion, a 6 percent increase from 2016 and the second highest tally on record according to FAO's latest Food Outlook report. One of the main reasons for the higher import bill is not necessarily a higher demand for food but the increasing costs of freight tariffs. This is of particular concern for Least-Developed Countries (LDC) and Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries (LIFDCS). The interesting reality is that most of the countries on the list of LIFDCS in Africa or the Caribbean have cultivable land to produce raw commodities (coffee, cocoa, bananas, spices, etc.), however, local supply chains suffer from extreme fragmentation
unable to connect local farmers to commercial markets. This problem warrants a solution that facilitates and simplifies the access to locally-sourced produce.
Beginning with the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia, the ‘Green Gold Project’ project seeks to reduce the country’s overall food-import bill by focusing on import substitution through the linkage of agriculture and tourism by using mobile and agricultural technologies and trainings on sustainable farming practices that marry crop-diversification and climate-resilience, all while engaging rural women who are generally unable to access these markets.
In St. Lucia, one-fifth of the working population is engaged in agriculture and more than two-thirds of households on the island are headed by single-mothers. Land is owned generally by men and most female farmers are either rent-seekers or only have access to land through a spouse or male family member. At the peak of the banana boom, bananas contributed to $87.6M to St. Lucia’s economy, so much so that bananas were referred to as ‘Green Gold’. However, with the collapse of the ‘banana economy’, St. Lucia is solely focused on tourism with a food import bill of about $360M
much of which can be grown locally and bought at a lower price than when imported. With a bustling tourism industry boasting over 1.1 million visitors this year alone, the hotel industry can be a big contributor to local farmers. Shifting to local supply could be life-changing for the more than one-fifth of the working population that are active in agriculture.
Our social enterprise solution leverages technology and in-person trainings to fill the gaps in the agricultural-food-tourism system and to spur targeted agricultural supply by rural women. The five key components to facilitate this agricultural and tourism linkage are listed below:
- An information program that updates farmers regularly on market demands, farming needs and weather using a soil sensor that gathers data technology from each plot of land;
- In-person consultations that train farmers on the use of agricultural devices and other sustainable farming practices that focus on increasing agricultural yields while minimizing environmental degradation.
- An integrated voice response system that sends agricultural updates via mobile phone to farmers island-wide;
- An eCommerce website that allows buyers to easily purchase goods from the farmers registered in the program
- Finally, a distribution and packaging center where goods can be inspected according to quality control standards and distributed to the requested sites.
Women’s economic empowerment is at the center of our mandate, as women are stillstruggling to be recognized asfarmersin Saint Luciaandso areless likely to be invited by agricultural extension officers for trainings or incentives targeted towards farmers.This initiative is revolutionary because it has the potential to not only improve the financial stability of rural women but of the families that are headed by these women (more than two-thirds of households in the island are headed by single-mothers) and would legitimize women as agri-entrepreneurs, which would in turn open opportunities such as access to receive financial assistance from banks and other lending institutions. Finally, by strengthening the knowledge and output of farmers, we would once again be able to bring value to what is so often the undervalued role of a farmer in society.