The Caribbean's First E-Agriculture Platform Is To Be Launched This Year

quinta-feira, maio 30, 2019

“Paradise always comes at a cost,” remarks Keithlin Caroo, Founder and President of Helen’s Daughters, a St. Lucian Not for Profit focused on rural women’s economic empowerment. According to Caroo, St. Lucia was once sustained by the agricultural sector but is now a net food importer, with the majority of food consumed on-island being bought from abroad. This is reflected in the rapidly growing hotel sector, with some hotels reportedly spending $10-15 million per year on imported produce that could have been sourced locally. Meanwhile, poverty rates in rural, agricultural communities in St. Lucia stand at over 35% and the rates of diet-linked non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, obesity and hypertension, continue to rise.

Keithlin Caroo
Keithlin Caroo, Founder of Helen's Daughters HELEN'S DAUGHTERS
In 2018 St. Lucia enjoyed its best performance ever in visitor arrivals— 1.2 million visitors— but this came at a cost to farmers, as a significant proportion of the food consumed by the tourism sector originated from abroad. This contributed to St. Lucia’s high Food Import Dependence Ratio (Total Food Imports/Total Food Consumption) of 95% and a food import bill of $360 million. (Food and Agriculture Organization)

An estimated 30-40% of the total amount of food products imported into the Eastern Caribbean islands is directed toward the hotel, restaurant, and institutional (HRI) sector. In the case of St. Lucia, this translates to $144 million per annum, with approximately $93.6 million in food imported directly by the hotel subsector. (USDA)

One of the reasons that hoteliers opt to import produce, rather than source it on the local market is due to the lack of automated information to match supply with demand. This has led to poor market timing and crop scheduling among farmers and has resulted in periods of gluts and shortages of locally grown fresh produce such as tomatoes, lettuce, sweet pepper, cabbage, cucumber, watermelon, pawpaw and pineapple. (St. Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association)

To make matters worse, the St. Lucia Marketing Board (SLMB), a governmental body that was previously mandated with the task of recording, promoting and distributing agricultural produce in St. Lucia has closed its operations, leaving a void in the local market which Helen’s Daughters has been trying to fill through a manual system of matching supply in the farming sector with demand from the hotel sector, all while developing the capacity of local farmers in the use of agricultural technology, crop diversification, organic farming and integrated pest management.

Green Gold, named after the banana boom that St. Lucia experienced from the 1970s to the early 1990s, is an e-commerce platform developed by Helen's Daughters on which hoteliers can place orders for local produce without having to source directly from individual buyers, thus automating a process that has to-date been entirely manual. The online ordering system will provide a 'Fresh Direct' process that promises optimal value and a shorter supply chain— benefiting farmers, hoteliers and intermediaries.

Green Gold
Green Gold is an e-commerce platform developed by Helen's Daughters on which hoteliers can place orders for local produce without having to source directly from individual buyers. HELEN'S DAUGHTERS
“We are hoping that this can really help the rural economy and families in the same way that the Green Gold era did,” says Caroo. “With a food-import bill of $360 million and a thriving agricultural work-force, there is a possibility to drastically reduce food importation and rural poverty by connecting rural farmers to commercial markets."  

Earlier this year, the OECS revealed another electronic portal— the OECS Trade Vista for Food and Agriculture— that promises on-demand trade and related data to enable informed decision-making within the region’s food and agriculture sector. It is expected to provide an added boon to Helen’s Daughters’ e-commerce platform.

With an estimated 570 million farmers and 7.6 billion consumers in the world, e-agriculture has the power to bring smallholder farmers to the centre of the food distribution system and reduce reliance on imports. Digitization also has the power to make agriculture more attractive to young people.

“We want to mirror the system throughout the region, particularly for islands that are dependent on tourism,” states Caroo.

Green Gold is expected to go live by the end of 2019.

Page: Forbes

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