Gillian Goddard, the activist who founded an organization that empowers farmers in Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean countries, has been recognized as one of the Americas’ “rural leaders” by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA).
The award, named “Rural Spirit,” is part of an initiative by an agricultural and rural development organization to honor the men and women who are making their mark and making a difference in rural America, as key to food security and the food and environmental sustainability of the planet.
Goddard established the first organic food store in Trinidad and Tobago and was the founder of the Alliance of Rural Communities, a non-profit organization that seeks to educate farmers about the value of natural resources, have a voice to influence policies and access financial tools to increase their production and improve their incomes.
The organization encouraged cocoa farmers to produce their own chocolate using traditional methods and to develop community-owned businesses in Trinidad and Tobago and neighboring countries such as Grenada, Jamaica, Dominica, Saint Lucia and Guyana.
The alliance has also connected cocoa growers in the Caribbean and Africa to create the so-called Cross Atlantic Chocolate Collective, through which they share the experiences of communities transforming their agricultural raw materials on the spot and seeking their own marketing channels.
The Rurality Leaders Award is a tribute to those who play an irreplaceable dual role: to be guarantors of food and nutrition security and at the same time, protectors of the planet’s biodiversity through production in any conditions. The recognition also has the function of highlighting the ability to promote positive examples of rural areas in the region.
Gillian Goddard, the activist who chose agriculture to build a better life
Gillian Goddard was 17 years old when she left her native Trinidad and Tobago to move to the United States to study at university. He settled in California and soon after arriving he began volunteering on an organic farm, where he learned how to grow food without the use of chemicals.
Her university studies were not related to agriculture, although she was always interested in investigating how people lead healthy lifestyles. Gillian grew up in a Caribbean country where people traditionally grew their own food and lived in contact with nature, but that has changed dramatically since the 1950s, when production capacity in Trinidad and Tobago shifted to oil and gas extraction.
When she returned to the Caribbean ten years later, Gillian was deeply interested in making a difference in the community, and so she moved to a semi-rural area and began to think about how to develop food production in her backyards or backyards.
“People felt weak – he remembers – because he saw how much money we spent on food, to end up eating unhealthy things. We turned our backs on what was available, what we had to create, and we were all day dedicated to making money through jobs we weren’t Interested in it. It seemed to me that the problems were about dysfunctional behaviors and I was trying to understand how to change them. So I met other people who were also exploring possibilities for creating healthier communities.”
Thus, Gillian started Sun Eaters Organics, Trinidad and Tobago’s first organic food store. At first he brought imported food, but then he started talking to farmers to grow, organize, and sell organic food to him. He also set up a cafe and a children’s place, thinking of integrating agriculture into people’s lives.
When he started looking for an organic farming certification, he came across Participatory Assurance Systems, which are locally focused quality assurance systems. Thus, the producers are certified on the basis of the active participation of stakeholders and are based on trust and knowledge sharing. That is, farmers and consumers validate each other, rather than resorting to external certification.
“In my work I have almost always interacted with communities, especially in rural areas, which are of critical importance to humanity, because our existence depends on natural resources and most of these resources are in rural areas. So the people who live near these resources and who have taken care of them for generations They need to control those resources.In other words, if you grow cacao trees in your area and you are pasture on them, you didn’t cut them down and take care of them, you have a right to the value of those trees.That led me to wanting to learn how to make chocolate, because I didn’t understand that in Our area has cocoa and we can convert it. Once my partner and I learned how to make chocolate, we started teaching it to our friends who live in more isolated communities, and that’s how we got to where we are now,” says Gillian.
Thus, in 2014, she was one of the founders of the Alliance of Rural Communities, a non-profit organization formed by residents of rural and semi-rural communities and their urban allies, that uses a comprehensive strategy and works closely with communities not only in Trinidad and Tobago, but in other Caribbean countries, supporting them to play a role greater in its national affairs and moving towards robust financial inclusion.
The Alliance’s first line of business was Cocoa. The stated aim was to contribute to human development and the restoration of the natural environment not only through agricultural work but also with the production of chocolate. Thus, tasks included teaching rural communities how to make artisanal chocolate, incubating the community-owned chocolate business, and moving toward full use of the crops and associated resources on cocoa farms. Leave the marketing and distribution of products and search for new markets for the alliance.
The organization, which began in small towns in Trinidad and Tobago, has expanded to neighboring Grenada, Jamaica, Dominica and Saint Lucia, and even a partner organization in Guyana.
“Over time we started getting involved in other crops, planting them, tending them, harvesting and processing them as well. This was what allowed us to survive when the Covid-19 pandemic came on. So chocolate sales went down and tourism that accounts for a third of our income disappeared. We were able to We extricate ourselves by sending food packets to people, which is becoming increasingly important in a difficult pandemic scenario,” Gillian says.
After several years of work, in 2021, Gillian reached out to organizations in Africa. Thus, with the participation of African farmers from Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Caribbean farmers from Jamaica, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as a product from the West Coast and another from the East Coast of the United States, the community called Cross Atlantic Chocolate Collective was born, which aims To enable cocoa farmers from Africa and descendants of Africans living in the Caribbean to dare to produce their own chocolate and other products.
We want to bring energy to rural areas. A rational human society should be clear that protecting natural resources is very important and that the best way to take care of them is to take care of rural areas and their communities,” says Gillian.
He concludes that the ability to collaborate successfully among groups of people is the most important tool we can have to make our societies work better. As important as the seeds we use, the plants we help grow, and how much we care about our crops, the most important thing is having access to the skills to work as a group. These skills are there, and we have to highlight them even if it takes a lot of effort. Working collaboratively is really the most effective way to bring about change.”
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