(MSEs) IN AGRI-BUSINESS IN TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs) involved in agri-business in Trinidad face many challenges that impede their growth and development. Some challenges are of their own making but others are due to the climate in which business operates in the country. This article seeks to highlight examples of the major challenges which these enterprises face.
The first is a lack of adequate technical knowledge. To sell any food product that satisfies the very discerning palates of local citizens, particularly consumers who are accustomed to foreign fare, is difficult. All too often, we find that the products made by the MSEs are poorly formulated so that undesirable safety and quality characteristics are evident in many instances. The challenge here is that the processor lacks the technical know-how of product development to ensure commercial sterility and product stability. Too often, recipes passed on by forefathers are used as final formulations and these lack the relevant raw material and processing controls to produce a commercial product.
Additionally, in many cases, those who become involved in small scale agro processing do not take the time to learn about proper processing techniques and believe that methods employed at home can work in the commercial space. Like every other successful venture, there needs to be a plan. The product characteristics and specifications need to be researched and documented. The process that will be used to produce the product also needs to be researched and documented. It may require several trials before a satisfactory product is achieved. The product then has to be evaluated for safety and sampled by potential customers to determine if sensory characteristics meet their requirements. This takes time and may require assistance from those with the knowledge and experience, for example universities, research institutions and online resources.
Another Challenge relates to High cost and limited access to suitable, attractive and green packaging. MSEs, by virtue of their size, need only small quantities of packaging. Packages and labels become less costly when bought in sizeable quantities. MSEs can obviously ill afford to order packaging material in bulk and hold as stock. In many instances, the packaging material is more costly than the product contained therein. In this regard, there are really few alternatives available other than using the most cheaply available packaging; which then puts the product produced by the MSE at a distinct competitive, and even, quality disadvantage.
Another serious constraint is limited availability of an adequate supply of good quality raw materials. There seems to be a widely held belief that many local fruits which go to waste could be used for processing. This of course is not the case. We do not produce enough local fruits to satisfy the local demand by processors. Why else would we import fresh fruits from our CARICOM neighbours and pulps from Central and South America? In many instances, the fruits that are available are of variable quality. The fact of the matter is that some MSEs have difficulty finding local fresh produce, even in the small quantities in which they are needed. We import citrus pulps and other tropical fruit concentrates such as mango from asn nfar away as South and Central America, thereby putting the cost, quite often, out of the reach of the MSEs.
Business knowledge, business plans, cash flow, the way a business gathers, shares and exploits this knowledge can be central to its ability to develop successfully.
However, too many MSEs ignore these important principles and practices, and resort to impulse, spontaneous and knee jerk business practices. This results, far too often, in unsustainable businesses.
Access to relevant research, that link between academia and MSEs, is not as strong as it should be. The result is that MSEs do not have access to research that may assist them. Why can’t the Food Departments of the Universities invest in projects proposed by MSEs and help them bring their ideas to fruition? That way, everyone benefits – the students present their research paper, the MSE gets the product or process information needed and the University, not only can take credit for assisting MSEs in T&T, but also increase the body of knowledge in its libraries.
Modern and relevant technology and equipment is another area where local MSEs have not had much assistance. The cost of processing equipment is exorbitant. Again, most equipment considered to be of suitable quality has to be imported. On many occasions, the wrong equipment is ordered because technical advice regarding equipment specifications and suitability is not sought.
Innovation by MSEs is not always evident in the products they produce. Too many products made by MSEs fall into the category of ‘same ole, same ole’. MSEs need to ask themselves: How can my product stand out? How can I differentiate my product from what already exist on the market? How can I draw attention to my product? The innovation may be in the approach to marketing, the method of selling, the packaging or the product itself. Trying new combinations of flavours, adding a new twist to local confectionery are examples of other approaches to innovation. As consumers become more exposed to international food innovations, local MSEs need to ‘think outside the box’, instead of remaining in their comfort zone.
Every MSE wants to export to lucrative markets such as the USA, Latin America, EU and Canada. However, the legislative requirements for export to international markets can be onerous and almost seemingly impossible for MSEs to meet. Many cannot even meet the local compulsory requirements of the Chemistry Food and Drug Division for a Certificate of Sale. They are hampered by a lack of training, lack of finances, not knowing where to go to find the necessary information and a tangle of technical and legal language that is mind numbing. Consequently, and unfortunately exporting remains an unattainable dream for many MSEs.
Despite what may appear to be a litany of insurmountable challenges to the success of local MSEs, a strong entrepreneurial mindset, inclusive of the willingness to relentlessly pursue success, can overcome these obstacles. MSEs can seek motivation from those among their peers who have managed to rise above the difficulties and ardently seek out agencies and organizations with the requisite skills and services to assist them.
CARIRI is one such company and we can assist with many of the solutions. Contact us today at 299 -0210 Ext 3053 / 5172 or at firstname.lastname@example.org