Dossier

Agribusiness leaders: The women driving agricultural innovation

Innovative businesswomen from across the ACP are joining international agricultural markets as they strive to overcome gender inequalities and achieve sustainable success in the sector

Founder of B's Homemade Ice Cream, Katherine Bethel, has grown her business into a household name in Trinidad & Tobago © Luke Smith
Founder of B's Homemade Ice Cream, Katherine Bethel, has grown her business into a household name in Trinidad & Tobago © Luke Smith

Thursday, 26 October 2017

The rise of successful female agriculture entrepreneurs in the Caribbean region is welcome. Combining profits and passion, in an otherwise male-dominated sector, women are creating jobs, empowering others and providing food security by producing locally-sustainable food products.

Sustainable food security in the Caribbean requires the effective participation of women in food production. On average, women comprise over 43% of the agricultural labour force in the developing world, however in Latin American and the Caribbean this is closer to 20% and, according to FAO, women only receive 10% of total global aid for agriculture, fishing and forestry. While there are a number of commercial female farmers in the region, women mainly remain involved in the distribution of food in local produce markets. However, the development of more inclusive value chains in support of agribusiness has given more Caribbean women the opportunity to lead agro-processing businesses.

Promoting a sea change in fish processing

Allison Butters-Grant, CEO of Global Seafood Distributors in Guyana is one of these change agents. Growing up in Guyana, Butters-Grant’s parents owned several shrimping trawlers and, at an early age, she worked for the family business. After completing college, she lived in the US where, along with her husband, she opened a wholesale/retail outlet importing and distributing frozen and smoked fish products from Guyana. However, when their supplier went out of business, Butters-Grant returned to Guyana to set up a facility to supply the products.

Today, Butters-Grant’s business is more focused on value-addition, with 95% of raw materials coming from artisanal fisherfolk. She procures the seafood and converts it into products such as fillet steaks, skinless boneless nuggets and salted fish; Butters-Grant owns the only facility in Guyana with a solar salted fish dryer. With a number of large local clients, including the Guyana Defence Force, gold mining firm Guyana Goldfields Inc., regional restaurant chain Royal Castle, and local restaurants, the firm also exports to Jamaica and the US.

Reflecting on her success, Butters-Grant says “My marketing and business development skills, and the ability to network with the right people have been crucial. Also, having lived in the US, I already had knowledge of how to market there and knew how to secure new markets. In addition, in Guyana, my parents were already an established household name in the local fishing industry, which gave me local recognition and credibility. At our facility, we also invest in mentorship and upward mobility programmes for our employees, 95% of whom are women. We also undertake continuous training in good manufacturing and HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points) practices to maintain quality of our products.”

As well as managing a commercial fish processing plant, Butters-Grant also finds time to be heavily involved in community activities. She is the chair of the National Standards Council and a founding member of the African Business Roundtable in Guyana, which works to promote the interests of African business enterprises. She also founded Women in Fishing and Agriculture (WIFA) to encourage women to become part of the industry. As a business role model, she mentors entrepreneurs providing business support, and even recently assisted in the design of a kiln for a local smoked fish business. Butters-Grant believes that, “Women are essential contributors to the seafood industry, inclusive of primary and secondary fisheries activities, but not a lot of attention is given to women in fishing in Guyana, as they are mostly fish processors with lower paying jobs.”

According to the 2016 Bank of Guyana’s Annual Report, the fishing sector increased by 17.5% from a decline of 2.6% in 2015 so, with the potential for added growth in the local market, Global Seafood Distributors is currently expanding and in the process of setting up a new €6.8 million zero-waste facility on 0.8 ha in the coastal village of Victoria. Looking to the future, Butters-Grant states, “We will work on sustaining our supply by collaborating with WIFA, and the Coastal Fishermen and Marine Services organisations, to build capacity which will allow fisherfolk to expand their fleet stock that, in turn, will help us increase our supplies and expand our value chain. We will continue to lead by innovating and will use every part of the fish to manufacture value-added products, nothing will be wasted. We also intend to use alternative energy – solar energy and self-generation.”

Whipping up business

In Trinidad and Tobago, more than 30 years ago Katherine Bethel, founder of B’s Homemade Ice Cream, started her micro home-based business with her spouse. From very humble beginnings with one ice cream cart, and making the ice cream at her mother-in-law’s house, B’s Ice Cream is now a local household name. “We started the business with very little capital, €380, which was our savings; so a critical point came when we realised that the business was growing beyond our current space,” Bethel explains. “We started speaking to financial institutions and began building a relationship with them. They supported us in purchasing our 2,500 m2 warehouse, and in gradually filling this over time with equipment, including our first cold storage unit. After that, we invested heavily again when we began distribution and needed financing to purchase normal trucks and then convert these into cold storage trucks.”

Bethel continues that another crucial step was learning the science of ice cream, and standardising the processing. “We implemented a quality management system to ensure we were following good manufacturing standards. During this phase, we focused on improving what we were doing, so we also looked at our brand and packaging to ensure that we were able to compete with national and international brands,” she explains. “We were able to access business development services from the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (CARIRI), Trinidad and Tobago Agri-Business Association, and the former Business Development Company, amongst others in the food and beverage industry and agriculture sector. I always tried to align myself with stakeholders who had competencies and facilities that could help me enhance the business.”

Bethel credits building relationships for her success, “It is through our affiliation with CARIRI that I began to develop partnerships with agro-processors at the Trinidad and Tobago Alliance of Small Agro-Processors. They began processing all of the fruits we sourced in Trinidad and Tobago into pulp, which we used for the finished ice cream product, thus ensuring a high standard of quality through a consistent supply of sustainable raw materials for processing. We also began to strengthen our fruit and vegetable supply chain with farmers to secure pineapple, passion fruit and coconut, among others. We keep expanding our supply network and now have relationships with soursop farmers in Grenada.”

Another major step in the firm’s growth, was its foray into mainstream distribution, which it started 16 years ago by first establishing outlets across the east-west corridor in Trinidad. The company also developed a frontline team which made B’s Ice Cream more accessible by securing space in Massy Stores – a leading regional supermarket chain – as well as positioning their products in other major supermarkets chains throughout Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean. The company also currently exports to Bequia and St. Vincent as key tourist destinations.

With a strong entrepreneurial spirit, Bethel says, “My main driver is having a passion for what I do. I have always had a personal development drive and have participated in a lot of courses from food preparation to quality management, as well as completing formal graduate and post-graduate studies. I wanted to be certain that I had the competences to manage the business, and investing in training and development made a big difference for me. Today, I have transitioned into a business coach, using my experience of launching a successful micro-business to help other small businesses.”

Caribbean treats enter new markets

Established in 2012, Caribbean Treats Inc. is a family-owned business, based in Barbados, which produces over 40 condiments, including pepper sauce, jams, jellies, syrups, seasoning marinades, chutneys, coffee and even a line of souvenirs. The firm was set-up by its director, Paula Manning, when she was working as an IT consultant in the Bahamas and had difficulty finding suitable Christmas presents for her employer’s wife who liked to cook; thus, the idea for her business was born.

With her main focus on marketing, and an expansive network of regional contacts, the business first served export markets in the Bahamas and the Grand Cayman before establishing itself in the local Barbados market. As an active member of Slow Food Barbados, a global grassroots organisation founded ‘to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions,’ Manning leveraged this connection with like-minded stakeholders to form linkages with local farmers and chefs across the agriculture and tourism sectors. These partnerships helped to her to grow the business and expand its product line.

Entrenched in innovation, Caribbean Treats differentiated the Barbados market by expanding the traditional offerings of local jams and syrups to include lemonade, gooseberry and tamarind, thus filling a niche with new flavours. While the initial start-up capital was from the family’s savings, later on they became aware of programmes geared towards manufacturers, offered by The Caribbean Agri-Business Association and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture.

“There was a lot less pressure on me to succeed,” Manning explains. “I was very eager to do something new and to understand the creative process. Caribbean Treats is currently in transition as we have outgrown our base, and recently obtained approval for a new building through the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation. We are in expansion mode and gearing up to enter new markets. I am thrilled to see how fast we have grown in 6 years and what we will achieve in the future.”

 

For another example of an inspiring women-led agribusiness read our Field report from Nigeria.

Natalie Dookie

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The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.