LEARN ABOUT THE SOUTH WEST AGRICULTURAL CO-OPERATIVE LTD. AND CURRENT INITIATIVES
1. Evolution of SWAC
SWAC has its roots in the South West Local Economic Development (SWLED) Project which was funded by the Atlantic LNG Company of Trinidad and Tobago and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). This project was implemented by the Trade and Economic Development Unit of the University of the West Indies during the period August 2012 to July 2017, in collaboration with a Steering Committee comprising volunteers experienced in poverty alleviation and development projects in the community. Local and regional approaches to environmental and economic development were used to prepare a road map for the future. SWAC evolved out of one of the initiatives identified on this road map.
This initiative comprised a Farmers’ Forum followed by an introductory course on Chocolate Making from Bean to Bar implemented by the Agriculture Sub-committee of the SWLED project. The training course was completed during the period 11th to 20th July 2016 by sixteen (16) members of farm families. At the end of the course, most of the graduates expressed interest in collaborating to produce chocolates and cocoa powder at a commercial level. Members of the Agriculture Sub-committee together with officers of the Co-operative Development Division of the Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development mentored the farmers as they drafted bye-laws and a strategic plan that provides a platform for developing business plans based on the skills and resources possessed by members. SWAC became a registered co-operative on 7th September 2017.
SWAC will be the premier agricultural co-operative, providing the enabling environment for meeting the needs of the farmers and agri-entrepreneurs of the South West Region, while reducing constraints and exploiting opportunities.
SWAC exists to help its stakeholders increase their livelihoods and improve their quality of life through value added activity, technical support and community networking.
In light of the fact members have very limited funds for investment, SWAC uses volunteerism as its cornerstone, relying on the skills and goodwill of its members to pursue activities outlined in its strategic plan. Projects undertaken are summarized below.
3.1 Cocoa Processing
While the co-operative was in its formative phase, the organizing committee entered the SWLED Big Idea Project and won a grant valued at $TT30,000. to purchase laboratory scale chocolate making equipment. After registration, members conducted fund raising projects to kick start the cocoa processing enterprise. Our basic chocolate formula and an initial packaging option have been developed. We have been testing market reaction to our chocolate bars and we are currently working on variations based on feedback received.
3.2 Farm Input Supply Project
This project started in January 2019. It seeks primarily to establish a mechanism that will facilitate members’ access to crop production inputs that can make a positive impact on yield, produce quality and crop cycle lengths, at reduced prices. Members are also provided with reliable information on the properties of the various products as well as application rates, techniques and timing in order to get optimum value from their inputs.
While the primary aim of the project is to facilitate increased profit margins for members, it can potentially lead to the establishment of a viable business enterprise. In addition, it is anticipated that members will be empowered to increase their investment in shares as their incomes increase and that other farmers will be stimulated to join the co-operative.
At present, two input supply companies, MAFAS Ltd and Andy’s Farm and Agro Supplies Ltd., are collaborating with SWAC to implement this project.
3.3 Marketing Projects
In December 2018, SWAC held its first Christmas Market at the co-operative’s headquarters located at Handel Road, Point Fortin. This project met with limited success largely because the location was not in an area of heavy foot traffic. However, it increased the visibility of SWAC, made a small profit and engendered a spirit of camaraderie among members as well as between members and the wider community.
In January 2019 the co-operative initiated a Fresh Produce Marketing Project. This project has been put on hold pending resolution of constraints arising from perishability of fresh produce and unavailability of suitable storage facilities.
Documented by Monica Lessey, SWAC Volunteer, Technical Support, Former Chairperson – Agriculture Sub-committee, SWLED Project (2016 – 17)