The Star (St. Lucia) - Business Week - - DOING BUSINESS IN SAINT LUCIA - BY ROBIN DARREL

In the Caribbean, fe­male farm­ers, agro-pro­ces­sors and crafters all face the same prob­lem: ac­cess­ing fi­nance to start busi­nesses and to pur­chase land or busi­ness premises. Since 2017, I have been the pres­i­dent of the Saint Lucia Net­work of Ru­ral Women Pro­duc­ers, which is com­prised of four clus­ters that man­u­fac­ture a range of prod­ucts in­clud­ing gluten-free flour, bread­fruit, dried fruits, choco­lates, juices, jams, jel­lies, chut­ney and rel­ishes. All of the clus­ters are in need of Hazard Anal­y­sis and Crit­i­cal Con­trol Points (HACCP)-cer­ti­fied pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties, but these come at a sig­nif­i­cant cost.

While one of the four clus­ters is about to move to an HACCP-cer­ti­fied pro­cess­ing fa­cil­ity, as a re­sult of an EU-funded gov­ern­ment project, most pro­duc­ers have to try to raise their own financing to grow their busi­nesses.

This is a chal­lenge be­cause most of the women run their busi­nesses from home and do not keep the kinds of de­tailed records that fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions ex­pect when they are ap­proached for a loan. Fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions’ re­quire­ment for col­lat­eral in the form of land own­er­ship is also a prob­lem, as most women ei­ther use fam­ily-owned land or squat­ted land. Women there­fore need more sup­port to ac­cess fi­nance, as well as larger and more fi­nan­cially prof­itable mar­kets.

Gain­ing financing for my own fudge­mak­ing busi­ness, Fud­gies, has been a chal­lenge. Fud­gies started in 2014 when I was asked by a shop owner to sup­ply them with fudge. I did not have the money to pur­chase the in­gre­di­ents, so the owner in­vested EC$500 (163 Euros) and I was able to de­liver 50 boxes to her by the end of the week. While the ini­tial loan helped to start the busi­ness, I needed a greater sum of money to make the busi­ness more prof­itable and sus­tain­able. I ap­proached five dif­fer­ent fi­nan­cial agen­cies, which each said that they did not pro­vide loans to start-ups. I then con­tacted a lo­cal fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion, called Bel­fund, which sup­ports lo­cal en­trepreneurs and pro­vides loans. As well as giv­ing me a loan of EC$12,000 (3,800 Euros), Bel­fund vis­ited me once a month to en­sure that the fi­nan­cial side of my busi­ness was run­ning well. They checked my record-keep­ing and made sure that my ac­counts were balanc­ing and that I was mak­ing a profit. The loan en­abled me to re­fur­bish my pro­cess­ing space, pur­chase equip­ment and open my first shop in Grand Riviere. I now pro­duce about 250 boxes of fudge per month.

I still face pro­duc­tion chal­lenges and have to man­u­fac­ture my fudge by hand. In­stead of seek­ing an­other loan I am look­ing for grants to pur­chase pro­cess­ing equip­ment.

More pro­grammes like Bel­fund are needed to help women busi­ness lead­ers to ac­cess loans, and train them to keep the nec­es­sary fi­nan­cial records so that it is eas­ier for them to ac­quire sup­port from main­stream fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions. With more in­clu­sive financing op­por­tu­ni­ties, more women like me will be able to scale up their pro­duc­tion and reach higher value mar­kets.

Orig­i­nally ap­peared in Spore Mag­a­zine

Robin Darrel, Founder & CEO of Fud­gies and Pres­i­dent of the Saint Lucia Net­work Ru­ral Women Pro­duc­ers

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