|CERES No. 116 (FAO Ceres, 1987, 50 p.)|
Some 1400 rural households, representing about 10 per cent of all farm households or 9 per cent of the total population of the Caribbean island commonwealth of Dominica, expect to benefit from a $1.5 million loan made last year by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for an integrated rural development project. The project's aim is to ensure increased incomes, better living standards and improved nutrition for about 7 000 people, formerly tenant and squatter families, through a resettlement project on two former government estates where land was often idle or undercultivated. Some 70 per cent of these potential estate settlers were earning less than the national annual per caput income of $970 and many were, in fact, on the borderline of absolute rural poverty at a level of $180 a year.
The five-year "repeater" project was designed specifically to address a difficult problem of land distribution identified as a major development constraint during the implementation of an earlier IFAD project begun in 1981. The largest of the Windward Islands, Dominica is considered one of the least-developed countries in the Caribbean area. Despite a rugged, jungle-covered terrain and a lack of fertile soil, agriculture is the dominant productive sector of the island, the principal source of income for about 60 per cent of the population as well as of the nation's export earnings. About 11 000 of the island's 14 000 farmers continue to cultivate bananas; they use 60 per cent of the total agricultural land, but contribute only 40 per cent of the export earnings. That contribution was 60 per cent before 1979, when Hurricane David left three-quarters of the population homeless and destroyed the entire banana and citrus crops and 80 per cent of the coconut trees. Crop losses alone exceeded $5.6 million.
Yet even with allowances made for the hurricane's devastation, banana yields are usually very low due to poor husbandry, erratic use of fertilizers, and the impossibility of using aerial spraying over about half the crop area. The overdependence on low-yielding banana production aggravated the balance-of-payments problems that Dominica was facing. A net dependency on food imports, reflecting an almost total neglect of domestic food crops, made further inroads upon scarce foreign exchange. This seemingly irreversible trend was reason for grave concern.
In 1980, about 60 per cent of ail children under five years of age were suffering from various degrees of malnutrition. A large part of the population was obliged to spend from 60 to 90 per cent of their incomes on basic food purchases. It was with the aim of growing more food locally that the original $1.7 million loan was negotiated with IFAD, as part of a $2.2 million development project intended to rehabilitate the long-neglected agricultural sector by providing individual loans to small farmers, herdsmen, and fishermen. Farmers, usually subsisting on less than fourfifths of a hectare of land, were urged to grow more fruits, vegetables, and root crops such as tannias, dasheen, and yams.
Farmers were also encouraged and provided with credit to engage in more backyard rearing of small livestock including pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, and chickens. Ten breeding centres to service local sows were established and maintained by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Credit was also extended to about 150 of the island's artisanal fishermen, whose output in 1979 represented about 5.5 per cent of sectoral GDP. The Dominican Fisheries Cooperative Society, which had been operating at a net loss, received a $20 000 loan from the Dominican Agricultural Industrial Development Bank to use as working capital and within a year was operating at a net profit. About $40 000 was also spent to improve beaching sites where fish could be landed more safely and boats protected from hurricane gales. An independent evaluation mission visiting the island in mid-1983 concluded that about 30 per cent more boats and 60 per cent more fishermen were using these improved sites.
Within three years of the project's implementation, there was a marked increase in local food availability.
There were substantial increases in output of vegetables, root crops and formerly uncultivated fruits resulting in surpluses for export to neighbouring islands.
"It might be difficult to document just when that turnaround started," remarks Prime Minister Eugenia Charles, "but you can see for yourself by going to our local market and seeing just how many varieties of locally grown fruits and vegetables are available. Pork and eggs, too. Before, if a farmer had an egg, he would take it to the market to sell. Today, he and his family can afford to eat eggs. They are no longer a luxury."
But despite a marked increase in food availability, there remained major obstacles to improved agricultural production.
Farm incomes were seriously affected by prevailing patterns of land distribution. Farms of 20 hectares or more accounted for only 2 per cent of all holdings, but occupied 61 per cent of the land. At the other extreme, 90 per cent of all holdings were less than four hectares, but occupied only 22.8 per cent of agricultural land. This skewed distribution resulted in extensive landlessness, an underlying cause for the extensive civil unrest that prompted the government between 1972 and 1983 to intervene and acquire seven privately owned estates. Subsequently, it asked the Organization of American States (OAS) to draw up a resettlement schedule for the allocation of plots on three of these estates - Geneva in the southeast, Castle Bruce-Carib in the east, and Sourfriere in the south - and to formulate a development programme for improved land use.
The resulting project, formulated by FAO's Investment Centre and appraised by the Caribbean Development Bank, is meant to complement and continue the previous successful project. According to the project design, crop production on the Geneva Estate would be extended from 172 to 228 hectares and that of Castle Bruce from 188 to 380 hectares. This extended area would be used both for basic food and for export crops: bananas, copra, root crops, and vegetables. An additional 56 hectares will be used as pasture to increase output of milk, beef, and mutton.
The project also includes a variety of badly needy infrastructural improvements, such as farm and feeder roads, grading stations, and produce storage. Women, who account for 35 per cent of the labour force, were poorly represented among the first beneficiary group. This time it is estimated that 28 per cent of the beneficiaries will be women. Thanks to improved transportation facilities, hucksters and traders - 90 per cent of whom are women - will find it easier to get their produce to market.
Farmers will also be encouraged to organize themselves into informal or formal groups to participate in extension and marketing services. A farmers' advisory group will represent producer interests as part of the project management.
Although it is clearly too soon for any evaluation of performance, emphasis on better methods of cultivation coupled with infrastructural improvements is expected to increase farmers' incomes by 70 per cent by the time the project is completed. Increased exports would annually earn foreign exchange amounting to about $700 000 and save about $1 million in foreign exchange through import substitution.