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UNECE helps the Dominican Republic to enhance export quality of fruit and vegetables

The Dominican Republic has recorded impressive economic growth rates in past years, yet the agricultural export sector continues to face challenges impacting the country’s economic and social development and limiting the gains from its free-trade export potential. Informal domestic structures, unsustainable business relationships, and weaker competitiveness owing to lower quality produce are factors which have hampered broader export efforts. Instead, currently only a few agricultural export sectors are very successful.

This resembles the situation a World Bank report describes as an “uneven playing field” fostering ”an enclave-type private sector” which is best illustrated by the organic banana and cocoa export sector (with a 300% growth rate between 2003 and 2017), or the premium market export segments where freshly harvested and airlifted pineapples sell for as much as 10 US dollars in Europe or the United States. These exports benefit from investments and support, are highly competitive and integrated into large international supply chains.

Since April 2018, UNECE - through a project funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and implemented by the International Executive Service Corps (IESC) - has provided the Dominican Republic with capacity building and expert advice on agricultural quality to improve the country’s food exports. UNECE has helped organize three workshops with experts from its vast network to promote the greater use of quality standards, and the closer cooperation between the private and public sectors to improve the country’s export capacities through quality assurance. UNECE encouraged the project’s network of young entrepreneurs to increase the impact of quality exports on employment creation, particularly for youth and women. These activities (practical exercises, meetings with high-level government officials as well as field visits to plantations and packing houses) focused on the three pillars of agricultural export food safety, sanitary and quality requirements. UNECE’s standards, training material, guides and advice found immediate uptake.

The commercial quality of food items exported to the United States, the European Union and the Russian Federation determines their price on importing markets.  Assured quality is pivotal to the establishment of sustainable trading relationships, the creation of employment and revenue. Rejecting containers full of fruit at the destination for quality issues, for instance, is an unsustainable practice as it has travelled a long way, incurred production and transport costs and left an environmental footprint. Even more harmful, a rejected container can taint the entire country’s reputation for good quality produce. In recent years, the Dominican Republic’s lower compliance rate with international regulations and import requirements - including quality - have resulted in inconsistent market penetration as well as more thorough and frequent (and thus more time-consuming) inspections. 

Advances in Dominican Republic export and domestic quality of fruit and vegetables (including for the multi-million-dollar tourism industry) hold the potential to diminish rural poverty and the exodus towards already overcrowded urban centres. Improvements in the current structures could increase revenue and employment (50% of the rural population is currently employed in the agricultural sector); foster social development and women’s empowerment (only 5% of women are employed in agriculture); and encourage sustainable resource management (agricultural activ­ities use 83% of the country’s available water).

Building on experience in the UNECE region and in many countries around the world, UNECE’s efforts in the Dominican Republic are helping to unlock the country’s potential through simple, effective measures to deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – aiming to leave no one behind.