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DEXIA Supporting Livelihoods of Dominica’s Bay Oil Farmers

DEXIA Supporting Livelihoods of Dominica’s Bay Oil Farmers

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Business, Trade, and Energy,  through the Dominica Export Import Agency (DEXIA), has taken proactive measures to support bay oil farmers and processors in the south-eastern region of the island, who have been adversely affected by market losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This initiative forms part of DEXIA’s mandate to facilitate and promote the export of agro-processed foods from Dominica to global markets.

The West Indian Bay tree (Pimenta racemosa), belonging to the Myrtle family, boasts aromatic leaves, flowers, bark, and berries. Commonly known as “Bwa Den” in Dominica, bay leaves are used for seasoning meats, fish, stews, sauces, as well as in toiletries and cleaning products. The scents range from common to anise, to citronella; making bay oil a versatile and sought-after primary ingredient.

While bay trees are cultivated across the island, bay leaf distilleries (where bay oil is produced) are primarily concentrated in the south-eastern communities of Petite Soufriere, Delices, Fond St. Jean, and Petite Savanne.

Bay leaves ready for processing in Fond St. Jean.

The market for bay oil in natural products is expanding, driven by a growing preference among consumers for non-perfumed soaps and beauty products. Bay oil is also known for its long shelf life. However, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the market, leading to closures of companies that utilized bay oil in their manufacturing processes, leaving farmers with already processed products and no sales in sight.

This was brought to the attention of the Government of Dominica by the Dominica Essential Oils and Spices Cooperative which reported the slowdown in exports as a result of these market disruptions.

To address this challenge, the Government of Dominica, through DEXIA, has extended support to farmers by procuring the oil through a $5m facility sourced through the World Bank as part of the Emergency Agricultural Livelihoods and Climate Resilience Project (EARLCRP).

“The $5m facility was aimed at the procurement of agricultural produce. We added the agricultural processing component to that so that we could assist the farmers and contributing towards their livelihoods,” says Market Development Specialist at DEXIA, Cleave St. Jean.

Farmers of Petite Soufriere bring their bay oil for weighing by DEXIA staff.

To date, 3,094.27 pounds valued at $309,427.00 have been procured from 78 farmers.  The community of Petite Soufriere contributed the largest amount to this figure with 2,074.87 pounds of bay oil from 38 farmers- a value of $207,487.00. Bagatelle and Delices were second and third with $43,475.00 and $40, 204.00 in bay oil sold to DEXIA. One pound is valued at $100.00

These figures illustrate the significant impact that these purchases have had on these communities- for many, alleviating the economic impact of the pandemic.  The initiative ultimately aims to revive the bay leaf production industry in Dominica. Parliamentary representative in the Castle Bruce Constituency where Petite Soufriere is located, Hon. Octavia Alfred is encouraged by this and the visible entrance of young persons in the bay leaf production industry. According to her, the government’s intervention was “well-received” by both experienced and new bay oil producers.

DEXIA General Manager Paula Platsko and Parliamentary Representative for the La Plaine Constituency, Dr. Cassandra Williams measure a container of bay oil from a Delices farmer.

Dr. Cassandra Williams, Member of Parliament for the La Plaine constituency, is pleased with the government’s support and emphasized the fulfillment of promises to purchase bay oil from farmers in the Delices community.

“I am one happy parl rep today,” she exclaimed, adding, “We have delivered on the promise.”

The processors are happy as well.

“Delices people are busy!” says Hendrix Williams, a distillery owner from the south eastern community. “DEXIA has caused the people of Delices to be busy because the farmers are going back into bay oil production,” he boasts.

Parliamentary Representative for the Castle Bruce Constituency Hon. Octavia Alfred engage with the bay oil processors of Petite Soufriere while Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Business, Trade, and Energy, Hon. Vince Henderson and DEXIA General Manager Paula Platsko look on.

Jessica Nicholls of Petite Soufriere sold over 62 pounds of bay oil and was thrilled to receive her payment within two days of purchase. “I am so happy today. I must say thank you to the Parl Rep and Government of Dominica and DEXIA for helping us in our situation.”

Jacob Durand also of Petite Soufriere has been a bay oil farmer all his life. He says it’s a good initiative which has enabled him to pay some bills and take care of his household. He hopes that DEXIA returns “soon again!” to buy more.

The success of this initiative is due in large part to the collaboration between the Ministries of Trade and Agriculture, the support from the parliamentary representatives and the farmers and processors, who are at the center of Dominica’s bay oil production. These collaborative efforts demonstrate the government’s commitment to supporting agriculture and alleviating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the industry and reflect a concerted effort to sustain and revitalize the bay leaf production sector in Dominica.

Cover Photo: Hon. Vince Henderson, Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Business, Trade, and Energy, and DEXIA General Manager Paula Platsko engage with the bay oil processors of Petite Soufriere.

Photos provided by: DEXIA

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