By Ryan Tang
The trip to Barbados was Javier Basto’s first time traveling outside of Belize. In his luggage, he had two big boxes filled with bags of plantain chips and churros.
Javier Basto, owner of Basto & Sons Plantain Chips, crossed the Caribbean Sea to Bridgetown to receive the award for Excellence in Microentrepreneurship, one of two prizes for the first Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards for the Caribbean. Marcus James, founder and owner of Access Financial Services in Jamaica was presented with the award for Excellence in Microfinance.
After selling produce and other items as a street vendor for several years, in 2008 Javier began frying plantains in his backyard and selling them to friends and neighbors in affordable US$0.50 bags. From that humble beginning, his plantains gradually gained popularity for their unique and tasty flavor, and he soon expanded with financing from the local credit union La Inmaculada for equipment and improved facilities. Now, the Basto & Sons product line includes cassava chips and churros (a fried flour-based chip) and is sold to grocery stores in Orange Walk Town, Corozal Town and Belize City. Sales have risen quickly from US$39,000 in 2009 to more than US$68,000 in 2011. The business has grown to seven employees and sells 5,000 bags per week with a goal of expansion to 7,000 bags per week. He plans to use his $3,000 in prize money to upgrade the equipment he uses for sealing the plastic packages he sells his chips in. I found his story especially impressive because to help his father in the fields, he missed out on school when he was young.
The winner of Excellence in Microfinance, Access Financial Services has established itself as one of the premier providers of loans in the Jamaican microfinance sector, serving 6,000 active business loan clients through its fourteen branch island-wide retail network. Trained in accounting and finance, Marcus James founded the company in 2000, as part of his dream to own his own business. Access has prioritized working class entrepreneurs as a key market segment and consistently provides convenient and innovative loan products. Despite a challenging economic environment which saw a 1.1% decline in Jamaica’s Gross Domestic Product, in 2011 Access recorded a 35% increase in the number of loans disbursed. Today, Access Financial Services is one of the largest microfinance institutions in the English-speaking Caribbean. Access received a $10,000 cash prize for the award and Marcus commented that he is proud to serve the microcredit sector through the provision of innovative products and excellent customer service.
When I talked to Javier, he said that he greatly enjoyed traveling and seeing the island of Barbados. But I am sure that attendees of the award ceremony, at the closing of the Caribbean Microfinance Forum IV, were probably even more delighted to taste the delicious chips he graciously brought to share.