Helen’s Daughters, a non-profit organisation in St. Lucia that focuses on economic development for rural women, is preparing the Caribbean’s first e-agriculture platform. The Green Gold initiative, which was named after the financial prosperity that the banana crop used to bring to the island, connects farmers to regional markets and allows hoteliers to order local produce in an automated, efficient way.
“With our project facilitating the process, hotels can get access to the farmers without the hassle of sourcing individually,” Keithlin Caroo, founder and president of Helen’s Daughters, told Forbes. “I truly believe that we can marry the tourism and agricultural sector to support each other.”
For 50 years, St. Lucia was considered the banana capital of the Caribbean. However, once the island lost its preferential treatment and had to compete with suppliers from Latin American countries, the agricultural sector collapsed, obliterating the country’s economy. According to the organisation’s Start Some Good campaign, small farmers make up about 20 percent of the country’s economy and are still struggling to this day.
Keithlin was inspired to found the organisation after seeing the gender disparity in the agricultural sector in St. Lucia. Although her grandmother worked alongside her grandfather on the farm and in the markets, she was listed a “housewife” on her mother’s birth certificate.
She realised that many women were like her grandmother—cut off from the commercial markets because everything was registered under their husbands’ names. When their husbands died, they had no rights to their businesses and had to start all over.
She also told Forbes that, although the rate of unemployment is lower among men in St. Lucia, most small business owners tend to be women, and men are also more likely to be supported in the financial markets through loans and grants. Moreover, local female markers don’t often have access to large-scale farming methods, which cuts them off from the possibility of partnering with local businesses.
“Most people do not regard women as farmers and ultimately leave them out of commercial markets,” she explained. “I believe that with our project we can push rural women to the forefront of modern agricultural techniques and give them greater value in the sector.”
According to the St. Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association, hoteliers often import produce instead of sourcing it locally because of the lack of automated information to efficiently match supply and demand. Furthermore, the St. Lucia Marketing Board has shut down, leaving organisations like Helen’s Daughters with the task of matching local supply with demand from the hospitality sectors.
As such, the Green Gold e-commerce platform will allow hoteliers to order local produce on an automated system. It will also offer a “Fresh Direct” promise to shorten the supply chain, provide optimal value, and benefit farmers, hoteliers and everyone in between.
“We are hoping that this can really help the rural economy and families in the same way that the Green Gold era did,” Keithlin told Forbes. “With a food-import bill of $360 million and a thriving agricultural workforce, there is a possibility to drastically reduce food importation and rural poverty by connecting rural farmers to commercial markets.”
However, Keithlin explained that one of the main challenges of such a system will be to convince commercial businesses that their suppliers will be reliable.
“Many hotels may not be open to the idea, especially if they have previously had negative experiences sourcing from local farmers,” she said.
Nevertheless, e-agriculture has shown great potential to improve business practices for farmers throughout the world. The OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) Trade Vista for Food and Agriculture launched earlier this year. This platform provides real-time trade and related data to help decision markers, such as those at Helen’s Daughters, stay informed about the region’s food and agriculture sectors.
Helen’s Daughters hopes to eventually expand its operations to other Caribbean countries.
“We want to mirror the system throughout the region, particularly for islands that are dependent on tourism,” Keithlin said.