Build on e-commerce potential, farmers say
- by David Hinkson
June 14, 2020
June 14, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a significant increase in the use of e-commerce in all sectors of the economy, and the region’s farmers are of the view that the pandemic has given them the opportunity to take it further in their field of endeavour.
This was the consensus of four young Caribbean entrepreneurs in agri-business as they addressed the tenth in a series of webinars hosted by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) on “Food production and marketing in a digital era: Challenges and Opportunities for the Caribbean.”
Keithlin Caroo, the founder of Helen’s Daughters, a non-profit organisation that assists primarily female farmers in St. Lucia, said: “E-commerce has come a long way in the Caribbean and since COVID-19 there has been a jump in demand for cashless payment in agriculture and contactless services and there has been a surge in agricultural entrepreneurs doing this.
“We have our own e-commerce platform called Green Gold and we have seen an increase in the use of this and other platforms. In some cases during the pandemic food was being rationed and access to produce was limited, and these services assisted many whose movements were limited and who lived in rural areas.
“The true beauty of e-commerce in this era is that someone with no knowledge of coding can still build an e-commerce platform easily, and they have integrated payment systems which can accept all major credit cards.”
Barbadian Lorenzo Harewood of Farm Finders Global created an e-commerce platform during the pandemic that was so successful the firm has already set it up in Dominica. Tomorrow, the company will be establishing it in Kenya – acknowledged as a global model in e-commerce and mobile financial transactions in the farming community.
Harewood explained: “We created an e-commerce platform for small farmers, as some farmers were not seeing the kinds of rewards they would have expected. We decided to use an e-commerce platform for people to purchase commodities online, and we did not charge farmers for deliveries.
“As a result, we strengthened partnerships between farmers and fisherfolk, which can help us create a better-integrated food framework, and we created four full-time jobs, namely three drivers and one administrative assistant at a time when jobs were scarce.
“Thirty-two per cent of the sales through our platform came from overseas, and we had customers from as far away as Belgium. We have piloted this initiative to Dominica, we are launching in Kenya tomorrow and we are also taking it to St Lucia.”
Harewood told the webinar that Farm Finders Global’s experience during the pandemic here has enabled them to create a model that can be easily modified to suit market conditions in different countries.
Citing an example, he said: “In Kenya, we will be using motorcycles instead of cars for transportation and will be using kilograms instead of pounds to weigh the commodities. Scalability is important in developing these systems.
“We only started this project in April in Barbados, and we made a profit during our ‘proof of concept’, so once you have a model in place that works, it becomes easier to adapt it to different countries.”
Keron Bascombe, the creator of Tech 4 Agri in Trinidad and Tobago, who started a blog on agricultural matters in 2011, has seen many farmers using the messaging app WhatsApp and social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to market their produce.
He told the webinar: “Structured information concerning agriculture is limited in a sense, so only those who are very versed in this type of work are the ones who stand up now, but these tools are crucial and will help them.
“Marketing is a high cost normally, but using social media tools this cost can be lowered, so farmers can take advantage of this to sell ideas to their followers and customers on a regular basis.”
Jamaican entrepreneur Danelia Doyle has established a blockchain company called Farm Credibly, which is aimed at helping farmers to develop a platform through which they can not only sell their products but also build up a credit score which will enable them to access financing to bolster their operations.
Doyle explained: “It is hard for financial institutions to ascertain which farmers are creditworthy. We are empowering creditors with information on farmers to provide an alternative credit scoring system.
“We are leveraging blockchain as a digital footprint, so an investor will get real-time updates on what is going on with a farm, the status of their investment, and farmers can input information into the system via their phones, and this should increase their viability.”
So far, two financial institutions in Jamaica had expressed an interest in getting on board with her system, she said.
But, said Doyle: “They want us to gain some traction first before they log on to what we are doing. People are generally interested but are not willing to put their money where their mouth is unless they have proof it works.
“Two institutions have asked us to send farmers information to them based on the alternative credit scoring system we have so we are giving them the list of the best farmers from our network; we are hoping that once those farmers are validated, more financial institutions will see a reason to jump on board.”
Read our ePaper. Fast. Factual. Free.
Sign up and stay up to date with Barbados' FREE latest news.