2.5.3 Build on what youth are already doing in the market

No matter how marginalized, most youth engage with markets in some way. This may be especially true in urban settings where geography is less likely to be a barrier to market participation (although violence and other barriers may exist). Value chain approaches for marginalized urban populations can benefit tremendously from understanding youth’s economic participation prior to intervention. This understanding should be taken into account throughout deeper market analysis and research. In Jamaica, the Competitiveness Company (CC) discovered that unattached urban youth, many living in slums, would often raise ornamental fish in bathtubs in their backyards. They could be seen on street corners, selling fish to passersby. After researching the market opportunities for exporting ornamental fish, the CC designed a value chain approach to integrate unattached youth into the export-oriented ornamental fish value chain.

Practical Tips: The Competitiveness Company on Integrating Urban Youth in High Violence Areas into Value Chains

Young people living in the slums and urban neighborhoods of Kingston, Jamaica that are unemployed, not in school, not looking for work, and not in vocational training are considered “unattached” youth. Highly vulnerable to gang participation, they are at risk of becoming involved in the political violence that affects the city. The Competitiveness Company (CC) and its local partners targeted these youth with a value chain approach whose goal was the development of competitive and export-oriented niche value chains that result in sustainable profitability for urban youth entrepreneurs. Challenges existed: neighborhood division and violence affected economic activity, producers knew little about the market, support services were limited, and state resources, too, were  limited. In addition, farmers used rudimentary technology and experienced high product loss. Following are transferable lessons learned from CC’s experience:

  • Select a market with existing and potential market demand: Through research and analysis, CC found that the ornamental fish industry had a total export value of over US$300 million per year. The total value of the aquarium industry is US$27 billion. The market had an annual growth of 8 percent per annum. Jamaica, due to its close proximity to the United States and Canada, major importers of fish, was well-poised to participate in the economy and due to climate, could run operations year-round.
  • Introduce technology to improve efficiency and productivity: CC found pumps and recirculating water systems that worked in young people’s backyards and reduced energy costs. By utilizing and modifying the Re-circulating Aquaculture System (RAS) methodology for intensive ornamental fish production, the project was able to increase the production capacity for the typical youth farmer in Jamaica by 300 percent. The combination of higher capacity, lower energy costs, and lower water consumption helped to reduce production costs by more than 50 percent.
  • Train producers: The program greatly enhanced the technical competence and knowledge of existing farmers by developing and implementing training modules (both theory and practical) that imparted internationally-accepted best practices in fish farming. This has resulted in marked improvements in quality (farm sanitation, fish health, and aesthetic value). The project also trained trainers to ensure that access to technical capacity building is more readily available.
  • Aggregate production and minimize operational costs through collaboration: Youth worked in networks to care for fish. Many producers would hire friends or families to check in on their fish if they would be gone for the day. This is an example how informal networks can facilitate urban value chain development.
  • Link to microfinance: This can be challenging as few financial institutions had worked with the target group previously.
  • Collaborate with government to meet needs: CC faced significant challenges in creating collaborative relationships with the government, which favored the tilapia value chain. Persistence paid off. CC found that approaching the highest levels of government ministries was an effective way to interact with government partners.
  • Be careful and intentional with participant selection: The success of the program, in many ways, hinges on the initial selection of participants. CC learned (the hard way) that the effort can fail miserably by selecting young people that cannot influence their peers positively, have a weak work ethic, and/or view crime as a better option to earning income. Creating screening methodologies and criteria to select the best possible beneficiaries gives the project a better chance of success and also has exemplary effects on other youth in the community. The process of mobilizing beneficiaries to participate in a program must include mechanisms for measuring/assessing attendance, punctuality, disruptiveness, work history, comprehension level, and influences (e.g., family, friends). These factors can be used as proxies to assess respect, work ethic, and stick-to-itiveness.
  • Increase market access: This was achieved through intense market penetration and market linking activities, including visits to international importers (buyers) in the U.S. and the UK, market research to identify the most highly-demanded species, and the development of local exporters to consolidate and market the production of youth farmers. The result of these actions has been the acquisition and ongoing fulfillment of export orders to buyers in the U.S.
  • Be market-driven: In the context of the urban poor and at-risk youth in Jamaica, any income-generating development program must compete with the often dangerous but also potential profitable life of crime as an option for the youth. As a result, such projects must be extremely market driven and be able to demonstrate a clear and real potential to earn consistent income at levels significantly higher than the more dangerous alternatives. The implementation of the ornamental fish project required extensive market research and market penetration to acquire information directly from buyers in order to make the case convincing to young people.  

For more information on The Competitiveness Company, please visit: www.thecompetitivenesscompany.com; or email: [email protected]. For more information on the ornamental fish project, please visit: http://www.seepnetwork.org/vip-jamaica-pages-10053.php