FAO in Jamaica, Bahamas and Belize

Building supply on the heels of demand - Using a Participatory approach to Value Chain development in Barbados, Belize, and Jamaica

Building supply on the heels of demand

Using a Participatory approach to Value Chain development in Barbados, Belize, and Jamaica


For many small scale farmers, the idea of farming as business is not fully adopted. Understanding how to get fair market prices that compensate for labour and all inputs involved in production is often times not tracked or properly calculated in the sale of agricultural products, putting many farmers at a disadvantage when negotiating with middlemen and buyers. Conversely, understanding how to tap into local markets and build trust with buyers poses major challenges for some small scale farmers, especially with the price competitiveness of imports. At the crux of these agricultural struggles is broken, disconnected and inefficient value chains that lack sustainable, viable and inclusive business models to deliver attractive products to consumers, and good returns to all the players involved in moving food from farm to fork.  

Traditionally throughout the Caribbean, Value Chain Development methodologies have often relied on external experts assessing and recommending actions to Government on how to strengthen key industries. Despite strong work on these strategies, the adoption and ownership of them by ministries has been less than desired.  

Across the Caribbean, FAO’s Trade and Markets Team is demonstrating that with guided support, technical officers from various Government ministries can themselves undertake Value Chain Analyses of selected sectors and build national capacity. The approach is paying off; not only does it allow the analytic and strategizing process to capture and build on extensive experience, knowledge of the local context and networks of a local team, but it results in improved uptake of recommendations by public and private sector stakeholders alike. This has so far shown that governments that are intimately a part of the formulation of recommendations, are more likely to take ownership and put them into action.

The methodology which offers a scalable blueprint of value chain development uses a participatory and applied approach, ensuring direct interface with a selected industry and its players. Barbados, Belize and Jamaica are three countries fully in tune with this novel approach aimed at building their respective agricultural industries.  

Digging into Barbados’ sweet potato culture

Although a rich part of Barbadian culture, the sweet potato has struggled to make its mark as a robust agro-processing model for value added products like flour, fries and chips, thereby creating and keeping more value in the country. While the sweet potato remains a staple on the plates of many, processors are struggling to realise sustainable and lucrative business models on value added production on account of high raw material and input costs, volatility in the supply chain and under explored marketing opportunities. To date, the country has been engaged in a series of facilitated trainings, with the FAO Value Chain and Agribusiness team, on how to conduct a Value Chain Analysis exercise. The Ministry team has now gone step-by-step through the process of collecting and interpreting sector data, analysing industry dynamics and identifying a viable and feasible future trajectory to support upgrading of the sector.

According to Bree Romuld from the FAO team, ‘the underlying question is how to strategically open new markets, and organise industry players to work collaboratively to enable the industry to strengthen its commercial value added processing and promote diversified but niche sweet potato products. This would benefit farmers, processors and consumers alike’. She added that this ‘is a decision best made based on evidence. This has involved bringing numbers to the table to understand the future market opportunities, talking with a broad range of industry players, examining what is going on at the farm level, and strategizing how to promote small processing businesses. The Value Chain Development process allows us to analyse the sector systematically and develop a highly tailored strategy to help the sector get to the next level.’

Evangeline Ragoonath-Devonish of the Ministry of Agriculture remarked that “the further development of the Sweet Potato Value Chain will be an incentive for more job creation and an encouragement for more youths not only to produce but also to gravitate to the entrepreneurial arm of the sector. The focus on value addition and large scale processing will not only have a significant impact in the sector but can be used as a model to help develop the other agricultural sectors”.

Revitalizing Jamaica’s Ginger sector

Jamaican ginger, revered for its potency and pungency, has for years suffered at the ruthlessness of the Ginger Rhizome Rot Disease. The disease which can affect acres of ginger crops, has spread across the island and led to significantly decreased yields, resulting in many farmers pulling out of ginger production because of the increased risks. While the demand for Jamaican ginger on the global market remains strong, decreasing ginger production increases the price, resulting in a decrease of value added processing and exports. The only viable long-term strategy for industry resuscitation relies on operationalising a commercial certification system to generate clean planting material and maintain strict field protocols to reduce the risk of disease. Training in certified production of clean ginger planting material, and the rehabilitation of a major green house for growing and housing ginger tissue culture have already been completed with FAO’s support. The only remaining step is to develop a public-private partnership to implement a clean seed certification which involves public tissue culture laboratories and field research stations, as well as commercial nursery operators, farmers and agro-processors. FAO has been working closely with key partners to quantify the costs, build the business model to attract private investors, and organise the supply chain in a concerted and targeted effort to operationalise a certification system that would transform the sector, in Jamaica. Among the key partners are the Research and Development Division of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Scientific Research Council, Northern Caribbean University, Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority and JAMPRO Trade and Invest.

The establishment of a plant certification system will be an avenue of change to again capitalise on the long renowned name of Jamaican ginger in international markets and generate essential foreign exchange earnings. It will also be the second clean seed certification programme in the country, and the first of its kind to use a full value chain approach. The system will link all public and private players across the entire chain, from tissue culture labs through to beverage and nutraceutical companies, which use ginger as a central ingredient. Mrs Michelle Sherwood, Deputy Research Director of the Bodles Research Station and location of the refurbished greenhouse, expressed that the FAO trainings filled a number of knowledge gaps on the value chain development process and shed light on how the ginger value chain can be strengthened’. She added that the training received, ‘offered a more holistic understanding of the concerns of various stakeholders and how the Ministry can better support the production of ginger beyond the provision of clean ginger planting material. It is a model we feel we need to adopt in a number of sectors to drive real change in Jamaican agriculture’.

Pushing Belizean Tilapia beyond the farm gate

In Belize, tilapia has often been stigmatised as having a muddy and undesirable taste. This perception is derived largely from the predominance of wild tilapia in the local markets. This stigma is one of a few obstacles the small and nascent tilapia farming industry must overcome.  As it turns out, and contrary to anecdotal reports, local demand for farmed tilapia, with a very different flavour profile, is high and local production can keep apace. With only five semi-commercial small scale fishers of tilapia, and an increased need for the country to improve its food security, building the farmed tilapia sector is a priority for the Government of Belize.

Miguel Sosa, head of the Ministry’s Tilapia Hatcher Centre (THC) highlighted that prior to the FAO trainings, the Ministry support had only focused on the technical aspects of farming tilapia at the neglect of the marketing aspects. He added that ‘the Value Chain trainings have allowed them to better understand the interaction, nuances and critical dynamics between the different actors of the value chain’. Through the FAO technical cooperation project was the first time cost of production collection and analysis for both small farmers and the THC had been undertaken. Sosa said ‘for the first time, we had a true understanding of what it was costing farmers to produce a pound of tilapia and we quickly saw that many were selling their fish beneath cost price. With this information, we are now in a better position to inform and educate our farmers on finances and marketing of tilapia production, in addition to the technical parameters.’

Sosa highlighted that the market assessments the Ministry team had undertaken as part of the Value Chain Assessment had been crucial to understanding the bigger picture of the industry. He highlighted that they now had ‘the skills and knowledge to talk to buyers in an informed way and find out what was in high demand for consumers. It turns out there are market opportunities for a range of tilapia products, but our farmers  had not necessarily been raising the variety of fish the market wanted in greatest demand.’ The Value Chain approach intentionally brings the technical and business aspects of production together.

Mr. Silverio Marin, head of the Belize Marketing & Development Cooperation said ‘the Value Chain Approach is what we should be using to strategically support all agricultural products and sectors. The participatory approach of the project where Ministry staff and FAO consultants have walked through the process together, applying various analytic tools and developing the recommendations and Action Plan together, has established an excellent working model where we can work together to draw on the expertise, for implementation, including fore- mostly from the private sector.’ He added, ‘for the tilapia value chain to be sustainable in the long run, farmers and buyers have to see the business opportunities and invest themselves in production and marketing. Under the project we have been able to develop tailored and attractive investment models for small and large scale production based on real and current information. With these profiles at hand, we feel we are in a much better position to attract new farmers and drive up national production of high quality farmed fish product.’ He added that the training allowed for them to easily replicate the method in other agriculture sectors.

Bringing it all together

Through support from FAO’s Technical Cooperation Programme, the Governments of Barbados, Belize and Jamaica have embarked on a mission to develop value chains they have prioritised. Under the Sub-regional Capacity Building in Sustainable Food Systems and Value Chain Development project, representatives across faculties of Government have been immersed in months of training geared at understanding the value chain process to better support their present and future industries. The most unique aspect of the approach is that it is participatory. For the first time in the region, Governments are learning how to conduct value chain analyses, understanding how to not only conduct cost of production analysis but also use the results to improve public support services available to farmers, and how to better engage other private players who are central to sustainable industry development. Leaving no stone unturned, the participatory approach takes into consideration opportunities and challenges at all stages of the value chain, from production right through to consumption. A process which is carried out directly by representatives of the Ministry who must engage with all actors throughout the value chain to understand their needs, interests and challenges in order to implement a strong sector strategy.

By employing an integrated, hands-on, participatory approach to value chain development, the Governments have developed greater enthusiasm, understanding and engagement with farmers, buyers, and vendors. As the project continues to push towards developing public-private partnerships in all three countries, we can so far conclude that a participatory approach to value chain development is a win-win in building supply on the heels of demand.