If you are a farmer, you probably know how hard it can be to find good markets and cheap transportation for your produce, especially if you live in a remote village. Here is a story of some farmers in Jamaica who started a cooperative to help them achieve these goals. You will learn how members increased their income and skills and expanded their farms, products and services.
Long Road is a small village in the foothills of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains. The soil here is fertile, and the climate is good for growing coconut, plantain, bananas and citrus trees, as well as yams and cocoa all year round. But the dirt roads are narrow, steep and rocky. When it rains, these roads often slide into the gullies below. Most villagers do not have cars.
For many years, when farmers harvested crops, they went to the nearest market. That was in Annotto Bay, a community of 3,000 people on Jamaica’s north coast. Here, farmers competed with each other for few customers. Much of their food went unsold, and rotted.
Some women farmers travelled over the mountains to the city of Kingston where there were more markets to sell their fruits and vegetables. Some women were professional buyers who took produce from many farmers to the markets. Many of these women had no place to stay, and would sleep on cardboard boxes for one or two nights, until they sold enough to go home. If the women did not sell the produce, they made no money at all.
Some farmers back in the village distrusted the women. Sometimes they made no money at all if their food did not sell.
Everyone was frustrated with this situation. Young men and women, seeing no life for themselves in Long Road, left their village to find better opportunities.
Then, a group of about 50 men and women from Long Road decided to change their situation. They formed the Long Road Cooperative to help each other improve their farms, and find better markets and better transportation for their produce. Each member agreed to pay a small membership fee and would hold a share in the cooperative. With the support of a local organization in Annotto Bay called St. Mary’s Rural Development Project, the Long Road Cooperative got to work.
The cooperative chose to repair an area road and build a bridge over a deep gully for their first project. This would save them the difficult walk down and out of the gully. The group asked for donated materials, and did the work themselves in their spare time. The job took five weeks.
A few months later, cooperative members worked together again. Villagers depended on the water truck from Annotto Bay to bring water to Long Road, but it never had a fixed schedule. Or they walked to a stream in the valley half an hour away and carried water home in buckets on their heads. So, cooperative members decided to take action. They worked in their free time to lay a pipe from a spring up in the mountains to the centre of the village. Now, with a better water supply and improved roads for transporting food, the farmers in Long Road could focus on their crops.
First, they needed to market their crops. St. Mary’s Rural Development Project helped them get their first customers. These customers would buy the cooperative’s produce on a regular basis. Customers included grocery stores, a caterer, exporters and juice makers. The cooperative bought a truck to transport the crops to these customers each week. They sold food at the current market prices. Individual farmers were paid based on the final price to customers, less the cost of transportation, administrative expenses and a small profit for the cooperative.
Before long, nearly every farmer in the community had joined the cooperative. They could still sell produce at the Annotto Bay market, or send it with the women to Kingston to sell, but most farmers chose to sell through the cooperative.
Farmers now get more money from sales of their crops than ever before. Some are experimenting with new crops such as scotch bonnet peppers (Capsicum chinense) and Mother Edward sweet potato, a variety which grows well in poor soils. Some members have come up with new ideas. For example, a group of women package herbs and spices including nutmeg, sarsaparilla, lemon grass and pimento. They also make crafts including greeting cards with designs made from banana bark. So community members are learning new skills and new ways to make money. The herbs, spices and cards are distributed to tourist and specialty shops across the island.
Today, the people of Long Road and their neighbours no longer have to travel so far, nor struggle so hard. Some young people are staying on their family farms, or growing their own crops in Long Road. You can see how working together and combining resources is the key to success.
This script was written by Belinda Bruce, Assistant Editor, Developing Countries Farm Radio Network, Toronto, Canada. It is based on interviews with members and staff of the Annotto Bay Co-op Group in Jamaica.
“How are you going to keep them down on the farm…”; in Canadian Jesuit Missions, Vol. 28, No. 3, October 1993. Canadian Jesuit Missions, Toronto, Canada.