Fintrac offers agribusiness know-how and subcontracts

Fintrac regional director for Latin America and Caribbean, Andy Medlicott, inspects onions that are part of a traditional curing system in Lempira, located in northern Honduras. Photo by: Fintrac

The impacts of an economic slump, increasing food prices, and growing environmental damage are elevating food security to the top of international donor priorities.

Fintrac, which is dedicated to agricultural development, is helping link international and local stakeholders in addressing hunger threats, particularly in Central America and Africa.

At the local level, Fintrac subcontracts to a wide variety of stakeholders including universities, agricultural cooperatives and trade federations, small farmers, and local non-governmental organizations. It also works at the global level with corporations such as Wal-Mart Stores, Dole, Chiquita and Carrefour, which are under increased consumer pressure to confront poverty in the developing world.

“This is a unique window of opportunity to really be doing some different impactful sort of work,” Fintrac President Claire Starkey said.

Long-term agribusiness technical assistance

The sole objective of Fintrac since its founding in 1975 is to provide agricultural solutions to hunger and poverty. The company, which is headquartered in the U.S. Virgin Islands, currently focuses on East Africa and Central America, where it maintains permanent regional offices. But it has also worked in West Africa, South Asia, and the Caribbean.

The base of Fintrac’s operations involves transferring its agribusiness know-how to isolated small farmers in countries as diverse as Jamaica and India. The company’s comprehensive technical assistance program includes long-term training to participants throughout the agricultural supply chain, from growers to buyers.

Fintrac’s technical assistance varies according to local needs but, for growers, can include calendarized planting, hybrid seeds, drip irrigation, raised beds, pest management, biological controls, crop rotation, low-cost greenhouses, and pesticide safety measures.

In El Salvador, where Fintrac worked for seven years under the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Agricultural Diversification Program, the company’s technical experts raised profits for one grower by building a low-cost greenhouse and providing assistance for tomato production. In the first year after the intervention, Fintrac claims the farmer made a profit of $5,495, compared to the $478 he made on average before the program.

Market coordination

In addition to its core practice of providing technical assistance to actors throughout the agricultural supply chain, the company also serves as a sort of agricultural market researcher and developer.

Working in a USAID-funded program in Ethiopia, Fintrac’s agronomists and consultants helped a fruit producer cultivate grape vines in order to take advantage of an emerging table grape market. After providing production assistance, Fintrac continued to support the grower with marketing advice and infrastructure improvements including packing, grading and cooling facilities.

Through Fintrac’s international market linkages and logistics support, the Ethiopian grape producer sent a trial shipment of its first harvest to buyers in the Middle East.

In Honduras, where Fintrac has been working on a series of USAID contracts since 2000, the company helps connect isolated growers with buyers, establishing strong commercial linkages that supply buyers with a range of crops year-round.

Due to a wide range of microclimates, Honduras is able to produce different agricultural products throughout the year. But previously, growers of different products located in different parts of the country were not coordinated. Fintrac has aligned these previously isolated small growers into a year-round agricultural supply chain, ensuring a consistent year-round relationship between a buyer and a cohort of growers.

This model also provides a greater variety of foods – and therefore better nutrition – to more consumers.

“If you are talking about commercial agriculture where your goal is to supply buyers with a range of crops year-round, you have to have sources in different zones in the country,” said Andy Medlicott, Fintrac’s Latin America regional director.

According to Medlicott, the company is able to lead the Honduran market coordination because it is present in 16 of Honduras’ 18 departments and has developed a nationwide perspective on the country’s agribusiness sector.

Local partners

Fintrac’s local partnerships throughout the world mirror the organization’s focus on working with every stage of the agricultural supply chain. Accordingly, there is a wide range of partners Fintrac seeks out for local subcontracts.

Agricultural technical colleges and universities are particularly well-suited to Fintrac’s research needs.

In Honduras, Fintrac subcontracts to the Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Research to conduct trialing of onion varieties at different altitudes in order to determine the best months of the year for planting. This research is used to generate recommendations on which varieties of onions to plant where and when.

It also subcontracts to Zamorano Agricultural University to perform research on biological controls and fertilization for various crops. Findings from this research are integrated into the company’s standard technical assistance package in Honduras.

Local banks are also common Fintrac partners. In Honduras, Medlicott works with Banco Atlántida and Banco Oriente in order to facilitate loans to small growers and other participants in the supply chain.

Fintrac also subcontracts to agriculture-related government agencies and national associations. In Honduras, the Ministry of Agriculture and the national associations for coffee, cattle, and pesticide importers work with Fintrac on training.

“The public-sector agencies are the lynchpin in terms of being able to establish and promote enabling environments that make or break the competitiveness of the agricultural sector in any particular country,” Starkey said.

Local agribusiness partners are the most important local Fintrac partners, other than the growers themselves. In order to support the small growers, Fintrac partners with businesses at all stages of the supply chain: finance, services, buyers, exporters, processors, input and equipment.

“We have to ensure that the services are available commercially to the growers during and after [Fintrac’s] project support,” Medlicott said. “We do this by demonstrating to these companies that the small growers are a viable and growth market for them.”

Local and international nonprofits fit into Fintrac’s work because they are the most likely organizations to be working in remote areas that the company is trying to access and develop.

Funding increases

Starkey said much of the anticipated increase in food security and agriculture funding will go to current flashpoints where Fintrac is already present: Africa and Central America.

“Africa is the primary continent of concern,” she said.

In Africa, Fintrac focuses on Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya, whose capital is home to its regional office.

As for Central America, famine and hundreds of deaths were reported in Guatemala during 2009. The Guatemalan food crisis prompted USAID to announce $15 million in emergency food security aid in the wake of the Guatemalan government’s inability to respond to the crisis.

About the author

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    Andrew Wainer

    Andrew Wainer is director of policy research for Save the Children. He was formerly a senior immigration policy analyst at Bread for the World Institute, which provides policy analysis on hunger and strategies to end it. He has also worked as a journalist and social researcher in Latin America and the United States. Andrew’s research and journalism has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications. He holds a master’s degree in Latin American studies from UCLA and is fluent in Spanish and proficient in Portuguese.