At the end of 2017, the agricultural sector in Jamaica employed roughly 15% of the labor force, while contributing to only 7% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Small independent farmers throughout the nation struggle to make sufficient or consistent profits from their produce. Furthermore, working-class Jamaicans find it difficult to access healthy, locally farmed, safe and organic produce. It was clear to Arthur Williams ’16 that the country’s rural agricultural communities had an issue that needed to be addressed.
Through funding from the Levitt Social Innovation Post-Graduate Fellowship, Williams, a native of Jamaica, will create a socially oriented agricultural enterprise called FreshLife. Through FreshLife’s website and mobile application, customers will be able to order fresh and safely grown produce sourced from rural farmers throughout Jamaica directly to their doors. Williams indicated in his proposal that FreshLife will provide small rural farmers and farming cooperatives with a stable level of demand for their produce, ensuring them the consistent revenue needed to support their farms.
Williams’ mission is to “enhance the livelihood of farmers in Jamaica by encouraging demand for locally grown, safe and organic produce and promoting a healthy diet and lifestyle.” At the core of his project is supporting small, independent farms and cooperatives across Jamaica, which account for the majority of Jamaica’s agricultural sector. Therefore, FreshLife will invest 40 percent of all profits into the “FarmLife Fund,” dedicated to collateralizing loans for rural farmers.
Risks and uncertainties in the sector, as well as a lack of financial records and credit history, make small farmers unattractive to lending institutions. Williams, therefore, believes the FarmLife Fund could bring much needed financial inclusion for these low-income rural farmers. “The FarmLife Fund will help to fund farmers seeking small loans to start, develop or expand their farms by reducing their risk to financial institutions.”
The majority of these independent small farmers also lack information on climate change and sustainable farming practices. In response to this issue, Williams anticipates that FreshLife’s Farmer Resources Section and the company’s partnerships with local agricultural agencies will provide information to farmers on climate change resilience and best practices to increase yields and avoid diseases.
Williams hopes FreshLife will build awareness of the issues faced by the local agricultural sector and rally Jamaicans to support small farmers across the country. “More than just bridging the gap between urban consumers and rural farmers practicing clean and safe farming in Jamaica, we want to create a seamless platform where Jamaicans can truly support these farmers and farming communities by simply making the decision to adopt a healthier diet and source their food from farms that are safe, non-GMO, and free from pesticides or unhealthy, non-organic fertilizers.”
The Levitt Center’s Post-Graduate Social Innovation Fellowship is a $25,000 grant awarded to a graduating Hamilton College senior or recent graduate to develop and implement a social venture that addresses significant social challenges in disadvantaged communities. Williams, who majored in Hispanic studies at Hamilton, was honored earlier this year with the Jamaican Prime Minster's Award for Excellence.