Sweet potato remains a staple on the plates of many Barbadians. While Barbados produces enough of the root tuber to supply the country, it has struggled to produce value-added products. For this reason, on March 11, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security brought together stakeholders from the public and private sectors, farmers, processors and researchers to discuss a way forward.
Through months of training provided by FAO’s Value Chain and Agribusiness team member Bree Romuld, representatives from across divisions of the Government of Barbados have been undertaking a value chain analysis of the sweet potato sector and developing an evidence-based strategy to upgrade it. The analysis and upgrading strategy was presented to stakeholders on Wednesday. The meeting sought to gain their feedback and endorsement into building a resilient and competitive sweet potato value chain.
Speaking at the meeting, Michael James, Senior Agricultural Officer, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, remarked that “the point has been to garner meaningful data and information on the sweet potato chain”. He added that “sometimes we think we know what the issues are, but until we analyse the whole chain, we cannot know for sure. When we know what is going on in the sector, we are in a better position to provide the improved support to help the value chain move to the next level for the benefit of all – farmers, processors and consumers.”
While Barbados produces a range of value-added products such as sweet potato flour, fries and chips, processing remains a marginal part of the sector. This has primarily been the cause of the high costs of production in the island, coupled with the struggle to acquire raw materials at a competitive price.
Romuld remarked that the key to solving this challenge is opening up the market and strategically supporting the industry to move more strongly into value added processing of various sweet potato products. She highlighted that an understanding of what the real future market opportunities are, learning what is going on at the farm level and what commercially viable small processing businesses need to expand is what was needed to build the industry. She added that the Value Chain Development process being undertaken allowed government representatives to analyse the sector systematically and develop a tailored strategy to move it to the next level while also serving as a model for developing other sectors.
Evangeline Ragoonath-Devonish from the Ministry of Agriculture noted 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 expanding processing will not only have a significant impact but can be used as a model to help develop the other agricultural sectors”.
Notably, the cooperation of all stakeholders is vital to an effective and robust value chain, which will help to increase and keep earnings from the crop within the country, making this meeting of great significance. During a Regional Workshop later this year, these and other results from similar trainings currently underway in Jamaica, Guyana and Belize are expected to be showcased. (PR)