By Ashley Casandra Celestin, Acceso Fellow
With an exposure to produce trade and commerce, I went into a career in international development to contribute within a space where developing countries can use market systems to find efficient, sustainable and smart ways to generate economic growth. From my capstone research with Cornell University, I learned that farmers with a business mindset can promote their competitiveness and increase profits, especially since investors make investment decisions based on measurable performance.
When I found out about Acceso and their presence in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Haiti, I applied to the Acceso Social Business Fellowship Program because the organization’s work is aligned with my career objectives where business and using a market driven approach play a key role in economic and social development.
Prior to Acceso I did not have experience working with a social enterprise. I wanted to be somewhere I could make an impact in people’s lives and have direct contact with farmers.
Coming from a business and operational background, I wanted to acquire analytical skills and understand what the data being collected actually means for the service provider and the beneficiaries.
Acceso Haiti is a social enterprise that provides farmers the assistance and inputs needed for improving quality and increasing production. Farmers receive credit for seeds and other inputs with a guaranteed market; all the while getting technical assistance on the application of best agricultural practices and post-harvest management. Doing so strengthens Acceso Haiti’s relationship with farmers and increases loyalty.
My fellowship focused on reviewing existing training programs, services and contracts to farmers; and assessing past performances in order to identify ways to improve services and provide recommendations for future programs.
With a combination of desk research, working directly with the Acceso Haiti team, and conducting focus groups with farmers in the Central Plateau, being in the field really allowed me to better understand the needs of the farmers and identify where Acceso Haiti could add more value.
I learned a lot by working directly with the Acceso Haiti teams during my fellowship. I was very impressed that the field technicians knew each of the farmers’ names. I could see how their day-to-day activities contribute to making a difference to the social enterprise ecosystem in Haiti.
The value of data in assessing what really works for farmers
There is extensive literature that presents solutions for small scale producers, including producers with limited resources to integrate into formal value chains. This is what Acceso Haiti strives to do: structure a program in which the farmer moves from informal transactions to becoming part of a formal agricultural value chain.
Furthermore, the team is continuously looking to improve farmer planting activities that are more traditional towards effective technologies that best fit their reality. For example, Acceso Haiti is working with Quisqueya University and the University of Georgia to conduct trials on peanut seeds that could be more resistant to local conditions and contribute to higher yields.
I learned how essential data collection is to plan and design an effective farmer program. Data collection plays a major role in yield projections and field operations which allows Acceso Haiti to coordinate harvests; on the other hand, forecast data helps them offer optimal market prices to farmers. Acceso Haiti utilizes Farmforce, a software used by the field team and data manager to register all data about farmer beneficiaries and broadcast surveys.
While pursuing my master’s in global development at Cornell University, I worked on data extraction for the Ceres 2030 research team – a partnership between Cornell IP-CALS, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD).
Amongst eight research teams, our team explored market linkages, activities and interactions amongst actors in the midstream and downstream of the agri-food chain with a focus on developing countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
I could easily relate the kind of small medium enterprises (SMEs) that are described in the Ceres2030 project, to what I learned during my Acceso Social Business Fellowship Program. I learned that intermediaries like Acceso Haiti play a key role between the farmer and markets, while also engaging other actors, such as input suppliers and logistics providers, that empower more farmers to actively participate in food systems.
Community Seed Bank Program – response to COVID-19 and food security
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Acceso Haiti launched a Community Seed Bank (CSB) project within its smallholder farmer network to develop sustainable, localized solutions to avoid the risk of food insecurity reaching emergency levels and causing major implications, where the price of food could increase by up to 34 percent, according to the UN disaster relief organization OCHA.
Farmers were happy and excited to receive seeds and plant a variety of crops to generate some income. Moreover, when there is an increase in food supply, this causes a decrease in food prices making food more affordable for the local population and benefitting the whole community.
During the pandemic, countries closed their borders and that significantly decreased trade, reducing imports and exports. As a country, Haiti imports more food than it produces. I believe innovations like seed bank programs, should be an example solution for governments and institutions to keep agricultural production active despite a global crisis.
To conclude, I believe the lesson from crises times such as COVID-19 is that it is crucial for a country to produce its own food – with the participation of smallholder farmers contributing to the strength of the food system – and to ensure its population has affordable access. Acceso’s ability to scale its social enterprise throughout Haiti and other countries could be a case study for other agri-organizations to learn from.
I would like to thank Eric Carroll for his guidance throughout my fellowship, as well as Patrick Dorzin, Emmanuel Marseille and the Haiti field team who contributed greatly to my experience.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in agricultural business and food production, Ashley started her career with produce importer and distributor, A.J. Trucco, at the Hunts Point Terminal market in the Bronx NY, where she oversaw operations, sales support, and import/export coordination.
She is passionate about building strategic businesses and taking on challenges involving new markets. Ashley completed a master’s degree in global development from Cornell University where she focused on international agriculture and rural development. Her long-term areas of interest include agribusiness, trade, processing, and distribution.