GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands, Monday October 31, 2016 – Caribbean young people, many of whom are formally educated, even at the university level, are increasingly seeing prospects in the agricultural sector amidst a tightening job market.
One such person is 31-year-old Dominican, Kamarsha Sylvester, who graduated from the University of the West Indies in 2013 with a Bachelor’s in Psychology (major) and International Affairs (minor).
Sylvester is owner and production director of “Taste of Eden”, a business located in Paix Bouche, a village in Dominica.
Taste of Eden produces green seasoning and herbal tea bags.
“In our green seasoning, we have all types of herbs and spices,” she says, listing among them basil, thyme, celery, parsley, onion, and garlic.
“If you want to marinate your stuff properly like a real Caribbean national, then you go for taste of Eden Green seasonings,” she says enthusiastically in her sales pitch.
The idea of an agribusiness was first floated light-heartedly when Sylvester was still a university student in St. Augustine, Trinidad.
Before exams, she and some friends were discussing what they would do while waiting for responses to job applications.
“And just for fun, I said, ‘Man I will go and plant some herbs.’ I wasn’t serious. I will tell you that for sure,” Sylvester recounts.
But what she said in jest soon became serious business.
“I planted a lot,” Sylvester says, adding that the idea of turning her produce into tea bags and seasoning came about because she needed market for the produce. “The majority of the contents within the green seasoning and the tea are grown by me because I am a farmer.”
Sylvester sees a lot of potential for her business, saying that the trend towards health-conscious consumption makes her marketing easier.
“And everything in there is home-grown; no fertilizer. So we are talking about organic fertilizer going to the people so people gravitate towards that,” she says of her products.
The young entrepreneur was especially grateful for the training she received in an IICA-organized workshop in January, at which time, her packaging amounted to putting the tea products into tea bags imported from Canada then into a transparent plastic bag, which she says “sucked”.
“The truth of the matter is that it wasn’t so appealing. So, I was proud of my product, but I wasn’t proud of my packaging.”
In March, she went to another workshop organized by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Intra-ACP Agricultural Policy Programme (Intra-ACP APP) – which focuses on the Caribbean and the Pacific and aims to address the common problems faced in the two regions by targeting specific issues related to agriculture development.
After the workshop, Sylvester secured professional packaging from Carolyn Chu Fook, who helped with design of a logo and label.
“So, it like I went from zero to something…So, here I am now.”
Sylvester was one of the young entrepreneurs at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) 2016 Agriculture Marketplace which ran from October 26 to 28 and which provided stakeholders in the agricultural sector the opportunity to meet and network with potential customers, prospects and partners, while showcasing their products and services.
In addition to her agribusiness, Sylvester is a trained community tourism officer and is also an electrician, which also helps to supplement her income.
She says that her business is not yet at the point where she can live solely off its earnings. But she is optimistic.
“The plan is to take over the Caribbean, the region, the world, one box at a time, one bottle at a time. So far, it is going good because, now, I am not in Dominica. I am in Cayman Islands,” she says.
In his corner of the exhibition, 31-year-old Haitian businessman Jean-Sebastien Duvilaire has similar ambitions.
He is owner and founder of Tahomey Chocolate Company, a cocoa processing company that employs four other persons and provides on-going income for about 50 farmers.
Tahomey’s main product is 100 per cent natural cocoa powder from Abricots, in southwest Haiti which felt the brunt of a powerful Hurricane Matthew earlier this month. He was in the United States when the hurricane hit the country, wiping out his entire cocoa crop.
Thankfully, Hurricane Matthew did not affect the north of Haiti and Duvilaire plans to source beans from Cap-Haïtien for his processing this season.
Next year, he plans to prepare a product for the Caribbean, adding that Tahomey will begin marketing chocolate crèmas – a sweet and creamy alcoholic beverage native to Haiti – to distribute to the Caribbean.
“That is the goal. So, I am really hoping that everybody around will be looking out for that brand: Tahomey from Haiti,” says Duvilaire, whose business sells its products primary in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, but is preparing to expand into Boston, United States in January.
Secretary General of CARICOM, Irwin LaRocque, is pleased and says the region must encourage young people to become involved in “a modernized agricultural sector”.
“You are having an aging population in agriculture so that’s one of the reasons we have programmes in the CARICOM Secretariat with our partners to identify young people and give them some coaching on entrepreneurship in all its spheres but also in agriculture.”
He says this is also a way of addressing the issue of high unemployment among the region’s youth.
“And you know our young people are very creative and very innovative as well, so they bring ideas,” he says, noting the range of products on display at CWA marketplace.
“All they need is encouragement, the right boost, the right push in the right direction and they will take off. This is the future of our region, and, like I say, the future is now and we have to keep them involved in all that we do,” LaRocque says.