ICT applications are helping entrepreneurs in the Caribbean agricultural sector through every stage of the business cycle.
An increasing number of young agricultural entrepreneurs are using ICTs to run their business in developing countries, and Trinidad and Tobago is no exception. Running the business is still the main challenge facing these innovative and forward thinking agri-youth, but ICTs are helping them get a head start. It is important, however, that the apps used in the agricultural sector in the Caribbean dovetail with business demands. So developers must understand the business environment that their apps are targeting.
All agri-businesses, whether large or small, go through a life cycle, from concept and start-up, growth and maturity to rebirth or decline. And there are a series of common problems that complicate the decision-making process for these businesses, such as limited financial resources, lack of labour and access to key business inputs. Entrepreneurs must employ different strategies during each stage of business development to address these problems and improve their enterprises’ efficiency and profitability. And ICTs remain indispensable tools, as they enable entrepreneurs to communicate with their customers, suppliers and other players in the market.
Social media have had a major impact in the Caribbean, especially among the region’s young inhabitants. According to Socialbakers, a social media analytics platform, Trinidad and Tobago has over 486,000 Facebook users. Of these, 155,400 people are in the age group of 25–34 years, by far the largest group. This is followed by the age group of 18–24 years. These numbers are growing steadily. The figures for Jamaica are even higher, with 688,000 users of social media. With a population of 1.3 and 2.8 million respectively, these are significant figures.
One of the emerging agri-innovators in Trinidad and Tobago is Isaac Holdings Limited (IHL), a modern brand dealing in agriculture, outdoor maintenance and estate management. IHL is owned and operated by agri-entrepreneurs Atkin Isaac and Arvin Isaac. They started their business as a landscaping and home gardening service but have experienced major growth after rolling out their online farming concept.
The company’s Facebook page offers consumers the opportunity to choose a vegetable crop and manage its development via social media. Land, labour and other inputs such as seedlings, fertilizers and pesticides are provided after customers make a single, small investment. They can monitor the progress of their investment online via IHL’s Facebook page without having to leave their home or workplace.
Crops include lettuce, chives, celery, eggplant, okra and cucumbers. Once a crop has been harvested, customers can choose whether to have their produce sold at the fresh market or have it delivered to their own storage facility. IHL and the client agree in advance on a percentage for each party of either the earnings from the produce or the produce itself.
FruitCaravan is a simple fruit delivery operation in Trinidad trying to emulate IHL’s success. The company presents itself professionally and uses clever product bundling. FruitCaravan is still at the growth stage in its business cycle, seeking to build a consumer base. By using social media outlets such as Instagram and Facebook, FruitCaravan shares pictures of its product bundles that highlight the quality of the produce and other features. These simple social media tools have great promise because they provide entrepreneurs with excellent ways to connect with their regular clientele and target potential customers.
The experiences of these young Caribbean agricultural entrepreneurs show that ICT applications in small and medium enterprises can greatly benefit the development of the agricultural sector. It is crucial, however, that the actual technology is set up and used properly so that it meets the particular demands of each business. Indeed, both the numerous stages in the life cycle of a business and the specific goals of the entrepreneurs in question are the principal factors that will determine the type or combination of ICTs that should be used. Once these ICTs are in place, entrepreneurs must explore the other avenues that will improve the success of their business.