In early March 2013, I was invited on a trip to the Dominican Republic by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Association (FAO) . The focus of the trip was a meeting aimed at finding ways to strengthen the ability of banana producers to increase capacity and develop and implement sustainable marketing strategies. Other topics covered included new production technologies, improving access to finance and risk management tools, and to improving the life and social conditions in rural areas.
This presented a great opportunity for me to put to use my years of experience working to implement international marketing strategies with small banana producers in Ecuador and Peru.
Banana producers in the Dominican Republic face challenges stemming from land reforms instituted in the 1960s. At that time, the government split up large plantations and granted many rural citizens direct land ownership. In theory, this sounds beneficial, but the land grants were very small.
Today, 80% of all producers operate on a small scale, farming only 2 hectares (4 acres) of land. A farm of this size produces about 2-5 cartons of bananas per week. How can a grower of this size and scale compete and market their bananas in order to build prosperity and increase their standard of living? The answer is they cannot.
The FAO prepared recommendations for the development of a sustainable market strategy prior to the meeting. Their core recommendation was to focus on organic and fair trade banana production. This was based on an analysis of recent trends and prospects in the markets for certified bananas.
The strategic plan had four pillars:
1.) Improve quality
2.) Strengthen ability to achieve organic compliance
3.) Reduce costs by working collaboratively
4.) Improve and market the image and brand of the Domincan Republic.
The next steps will be to implement the strategy with the ultimate goal to consolidate and expand market opportunities [question: How do you consolidate and expand at the same time? Is there some way to explain this a little more or use a word that is more precise?].
The conference highlighted the strength of organic agriculture and the important role it plays in developing countries. Through organic practices, growers are able to secure better prices, increase their infrastructure and be more mindful of their responsibility to the land and their workers.
For years, I have believed that organic agriculture can change the world. It’s encouraging to know the UN embraces this belief.