Just beyond the beaches and resorts of Montego Bay, Jamaica, people are struggling to maintain a basic living in the small rural town of Catadupa. Experience Mission has been bringing volunteer teams to Catadupa for the past 6 years, and Executive Director Chris Clum first visited the community about 15 years ago. EM staff member Josh Gray spent two summers in Catadupa while in college and is currently EM’s primary contact for Catadupa leaders. During their time in Jamaica, Clum and Gray began to see that lasting change in the community was not going to be achieved just by bringing mission teams. A more strategic approach was needed.
The Catadupa Community Development Committee (CCDC) was formed in 2008 consisting of a team of Catadupa residents, and it exists to confront the needs of the community. It focuses on improving the community in various areas including health, education, and business. The current priority of CCDC members is developing agriculture, but without any significant resources or even a functioning office, they have been able to make little tangible progress.
In the fall of 2009, Gray and Leroy Gordon, local pastor and CCDC president, began discussing the community vision for economic development through agriculture, and since then EM has been partnering with the CCDC to assist in raising funds. The CCDC members are driving the vision, and they possess an in depth knowledge of local agriculture, but EM has a network of connections with people and organizations from the US who have resources. EM is committed to leveraging its time and resources to assist the community of Catadupa, and the CCDC will continue with the necessary on the ground research and planning.
The CCDC’s strategy for agricultural development is all about collaboration. There are many capable farmers in the community, but they lack the knowledge and resources to market their products. Even if they find a market, such as a hotel in Montego Bay, they lack any means for transporting their crops, and in most cases do not produce a sufficient quantity for the hotels to take notice. The CCDC intends to unite local farmers so that they can together produce sufficient quantities, and then provide a mechanism for contracting with hotels and transporting products. The farmers will sell to the CCDC, and it will in turn fulfill its contracts and transport the products to Montego Bay. CCDC profits will be used to sustain the program, provide supplies for the farmers, and fund other community initiatives.
The goal is to create opportunity. Gordon states, “One of the things about farming is that if you’re gonna plant you need market, so the CDC, we come together as a group, and what we want to do is to create the kind of a vehicle or the opportunity where we can provide the market for the farmers, and identify the market so when they plant their product they know exactly where, who they’ll be selling it to, and the price they will be getting from that.” Gordon explains that many farmers only sell to an occasional friend or neighbor, so he hopes that they can plant on a larger scale. He states, “There are more persons who will go into farming if bringing their product from point A to point B and getting a high return was possible.”
It’s been a long road for the people of Catadupa. Originally settled by runaway slaves, Catadupa was traditionally a farming community, but in the late 1800s the island’s main railway was extended to Montego Bay, and the resulting railroad line passed right through the center of the town. It became a primary source of employment and provided a consistent influx of tourists who were ready to purchase handmade clothing and crafts from local artisans. The train became the life of the town, and it provided a much needed connection to the outside world for nearly a hundred years. This all changed in the early 1990’s when the train was unexpectedly shutdown. The town was devastated; its economy and way of life had been destroyed overnight.
Today, the train station is dilapidated, the railroad tracks are covered in weeds, and the only local businesses area are a few poorly stocked shops. Without a market for their products, farmers struggle just to maintain basic necessities such as food, shelter and clothing. Most people live a life of abject poverty. While EM and other NGO’s have accomplished many projects, these fail to address the root cause of the poverty in Catadupa. A grassroots movement that will provide economic opportunity may be the only hope for Catadupa. This is why the locally led agricultural program is so important.
Both EM staff and CCDC members agree that the first step is to build a community resource center. This will serve as a platform for community collaboration, and it will include a functioning modern office for the CCDC. Noel Atkinson, a member of the committee, sees the establishment of a resource center with agricultural development as the number one priority for the community. He explains, “The potential is there for development, but as I said the whole thing is to get the resource center working, and alongside of that, we want to encourage the farmers now to get back into farming so that, you know, we can have some economic activity in the area. That would improve the standard of living.” Atkinson is a retired farmer who lives in Catadupa, and he has years of civic and industrial experience with a US corporation.
EM hopes to raise $40,000 for the construction of the resource center, and $50,000 for the development of agriculture by spring of 2011.