by Curlan Campbell
- Smallholder farmers often excluded in business investment package for agriculture
- Exporters weekly ship 30,000 pounds of soursop to US
- Huge US market for Grenadian Julie mangoes
- Attractive investment is needed to keep the people we export for labour
Dr Wendell Cornwall, an expert in International Trade & Food Security, said it’s time to invest in smallholder farmers. A small-scale farmer relies on their labour and resources to grow food or other agricultural goods. Typically, they inhabit rural areas and engage in selling their products or surplus crops, while also using some for personal consumption or as non-monetary payments.
While addressing attendees at Wednesday’s Agrivest Symposium 2024 held at the Radisson Grenada Beach Resort, Dr Cornwall lamented the lack of serious investment for smallholder farmers who are often excluded in the business investment package for agriculture. He stated that financing is mainly accessible to those farmers engaged in commercial farming who can make very significant investments in agriculture. “We have the Grenada Investment Development Corporation, providing capital investment allowances for qualifying investments in excess of EC$1 million, and we have to think, how many small farmers have access to, or need $1 million? This and other incentives are important, and they are certainly beneficial for developing agriculture and agribusinesses in Grenada,” Dr Cornwall said.
Depending on seasonal conditions and market opportunities, smallholder farmers may grow one primary crop or multiple crops. However, globally, smallholder farmers often lack sufficient funds, operate with improper infrastructure, and are vulnerable to the whims of supply chains that can favour large-scale farmers. Accessing markets for their produce can be challenging for smallholder farmers. Due to a lack of market information, including dynamics, prices, and quality requirements, exploitative intermediaries and price volatility occur.
“They [Farmers] need more training and access to information on best practices and sustainable farming methods. They need incentive training and financial support for small-scale value-added production, especially for livelihood rather than purely commercial farming. Finally, they also require access to infrastructure, including irrigation systems,” he said.
Action-based solutions are needed to address the needs and challenges of smallholder farmers, ensuring that their rights are protected with proper legislation.
“Whatever incentives that we do come up with must be supported by an adequate policy and legislative framework to promote and protect the entitlements of small farmers. This includes owning and accessing productive resources like land, seeds, and water, ensuring that those engaged or employed in small farming have adequate income, ensuring that there is a market for their crops and that there are proper support mechanisms or social safety nets for these farmers,” Dr Cornwall explained.
During her presentation, Dr Tessa Barry, an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Candidate at The University of the West Indies, highlighted the significant lack of investment in connecting farmers with research and innovation that could enhance their yields. Dr Barry emphasised the importance of improving agricultural extension services, which provide farmers with knowledge of agronomic techniques and skills to boost their productivity, food security, and livelihoods. She also addressed the issue surrounding the farm labour crisis where farm labour is exported from the island of Grenada to North America. “Investment is needed in labour. We export labour: local [people] are being exported to work on farms outside of Grenada. Why not invest in labour, and make it attractive that we keep the [people] we export for labour,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Agrivest Symposium also brought to light opportunities ripe for the picking when it comes to accessing international markets for agricultural produce. Presenters like Carlon Mohammed, CEO of FOB MIAMI — an import-export-distribution and consultancy firm based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida — provided new insights into potential opportunities and synergies that can be created to establish markets throughout the region and in North America. In his presentation, Mohammed indicated that FOB MIAMI is strategically placed in the US to handle distribution for produce such as soursop coming from Grenada and is more than willing to not only provide consultancy services to assist local farmers but can also help develop financing programmes to boost the industry.
While Grenada is the only Caribbean nation permitted to export fresh soursop to the US market, we face a significant challenge due to the low production of high-quality soursop, making it difficult for consistent export in quantities required to meet the buyer demand. On average, exporters weekly ship 30,000 pounds of soursop into 7 US States, but this does not meet 1% of the demand.
In addition, exporting fresh mangoes to the US can be a profitable market opportunity for Grenada. Americans have increased their consumption of mangoes by 63%. However, due to the presence of mango seed weevil and West Indian Fruit Fly, Grenada was unable to utilise this market for over 20 years.
Market access was reinstated in 2023, allowing Grenada to tap into this growing industry. Seasons Farm Fresh Inc., a company with a global network of farms operating in 9 countries across 5 continents, is taking advantage of this opportunity. The company was registered in Grenada in 2011 and its CEO Nicholas Bernal presented that they have exported 4 tons of fresh mangoes to the US over 2 shipments.
“It’s important to note that the US has a very stable mango price. It kind of fluctuates between $8 and $3. That’s per 4 kg so that’s 9 pounds of mangoes. It’s pretty economical,” he said. “There’s a huge market for mangoes and there’s a huge market for Grenadian mangoes, Julie mangoes. One of the best mangoes you can eat aside from the diaspora who craves the mangoes, there’s a huge demand for Americans to try better quality mangoes.”