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Advancing urban value chain development to help millions of people work their way out of poverty

VIP Jamaica

VIP Jamaica’s “Building Bridges” program nurtures the development of a globally competitive, market-driven ornamental fish industry in Jamaica in order to improve the livelihood, prosperity and quality of life of disaffected and underprivileged urban youth in Jamaica’s violence-prone inner-cities. JEA’s goal is to strengthen ornamental fish production in both variety and volume in order to provide area youth with a sound social and economic alternative to gang membership and violence.

Project at a Glance | Background | Strategy | Results | Photos and Videos | More Information

Project at a Glance

Implementing Agency  Jamaica Exporters’ Association
Partner  Area Youth Foundation (an arts-based, community youth movement), The Competitiveness Company
Sector  Ornamental fish in Kingston: emerging export sector, common hobby
Strategy  Target domestic and US market, undercut Asian competition
Targeting  6,500 ME owners and workers, violence affected communities, young men
Social Challenges  Violence, gangs, drugs, poor education, family breakdown, economic exclusion
Social Services  Life skills, peace and reconciliation, empowerment
Business Challenges  Low volume, few varieties, weak market linkages
Business Services  Market linkages, consolidator function, finance, technology/training


The poor urban communities in Jamaica’s capital and major towns are a measureable manifestation of nearly five decades of development failure. The prevalence of violence and crime have had a corrosive effect on education, investment, access to decent work, supportive family life, and social cohesion

The Value Initiative Program in Jamaica (VIP Jamaica) targeted the urban centers of Kingston, St. Andrew, and St. Catherine, with an aggregate population of 1,134,600, of which an estimated 250,000 live in inner-city communities. There are an estimated 550,000 unattached youth in Jamaica overall (youth between 14 and 24 not in the labor force or school) and 40% of this group is situated in the three urban centers targeted in this project. Low levels of education and limited opportunities for employment have fuelled emigration, which has further shattered family structure. This situation has perpetuated the cycle of poverty, inability to access opportunities, inter-generational poverty, and low social mobility. In addition, these communities are dominated by an entrenched network of criminal gangs and pervasive violent crime.

The impact of crime on Jamaica’s development is immense. With little hope of finding work, young people are recruited at a very early age—at best—into the informal economy of illegal vending and illegal taxi operations, and—at worst—into the criminal economy of drug trafficking, gun-running, and robbery. For many of these youths, a gun is far easier to obtain than a job.

Given this situation, VIP Jamaica, known as “Building a Bridge to a World of Opportunities,” focused directly on income-generating prospects, with the promise of positive and measureable change in a relatively short time. It searched for possibilities of profitable enterprise within inner-city communities in Jamaica. It aimed to engage the poor in a wealth-creating global value chain based on life-affirming initiatives, rather than on participation in organized crime.


The goal of VIP Jamaica was to nurture the development of a globally competitive Jamaican ornamental fish industry “produced” by young men from Kingston’s inner-city communities. Significantly increasing sales of ornamental fish from Jamaica to international markets could bring sustainable wealth and stability into communities characterised by persistent poverty and a preponderance of criminal gangs. VIP Jamaica’s emphasis on wealth creation is important because marginal changes in earning capacity are insufficient to challenge the lure of guns and drugs.


*Results are estimates based on internal results measurements systems and are not to be viewed as exact figures. For more information on the method used for monitoring and evaluation, please contact Yibin Chu at chu@seepnetwork.org. 

VIP Jamaica reached 412 ornamental fish enterprises by December 2011, with approximately 96% (395) demonstrating financial benefits by the project’s conclusion. These gains generated nearly $20,000 in additional annual income for the 395 target enterprises. By December 2013, nearly 1,200 enterprises are expected to achieve financial benefits related to VIP Jamaica interventions, generating nearly $60,000 in additional annual income.

Strengthened market linkages. Linking marginalized inner-city youth enterprise owners to local exporters and international buyers demonstrated the market potential of ornamental fish farming to these owners and improved their ability to access high-quality information on production and marketing. Prior to VIP Jamaica’s interventions, input suppliers did not pay particular attention to fish farmers because their numbers and business was not significant enough to warrant it. Following implementation of program activities, however, the increased number of farmers, several input suppliers changed how they do business to better serve commercial ornamental fish farmers. For example, suppliers of feed began to solicit information from farmers to source the most suitable feed at much lower wholesale prices, knowing that there are now greater numbers of farmer customers present in the market. Production equipment suppliers also began doing the same, working with farmers to identify and source the most energy-efficient pumps and providing spare parts and servicing. Crowding-in of service providers was also observed, with enterprises whom VIP Jamaica did not engage directly demonstrating behaviors similar to project-related enterprises.

Improved access to training opportunities for target enterprises. Prior to VIP Jamaica, only the government provided training in ornamental fish farming. This training was held only twice per year, was limited to only 20 persons per session, and was rudimentary. VIP Jamaica contracted the services of international consultants to not only develop a comprehensive training course with several modules, but also train twelve for-profit training service providers to implement an improved training course for ornamental fish farmers. Over 300 farmers were subsequently trained for the first time or retrained through December 2011, and VIP Jamaica reported a large untapped pool of potential trainees representing and on-going market for the trainers.

Improved farming technology. Before VIP Jamaica, most farmers used outdated, low-quality production technology to grow fish such as jerry-rigged, unconnected containers for breeding. Such technologies were typically unsanitary, with stagnant water, and inefficient. VIP Jamaica introduced farmers to suppliers of new technologies such as energy efficient water pumps, bio-filtration and piping to create a production system that produced minimal waste and tripling average production volumes from 10 fish/ m2  to 30 fish/m2. Because most famers’ production space is limited, these increases in productivity had demonstrable impact on enterprise income.

Facilitated improved research and marketing services. Prior to VIP Jamaica, there was no formal market research available to ornamental fish farmers such as identifying buyers and their expectations, understanding the types of fish demanded, business cycles and seasonality in the market. Further, no organizations extended market access support on the behalf of these farmers. Consequently, VIP Jamaica initially took on this task by gathering comparative data on how small countries such as Singapore successfully export millions of fish, the applicability of such experiences to the Jamaican context, and developed detailed market analyses. The project then engaged with buyers on behalf of beneficiary farmers, resulting in the negotiation and acquisition of orders totaling over 20,000 fish from buyers in the US by December 2011. Throughout this project, VIP Jamaica engaged local exporters to assume these marketing tasks following the conclusion of the project.

Systemic Changes in Service Provision.  Prior to the program’s interventions, input suppliers did not pay particular attention to fish farmers because their numbers and business were not significant enough to warrant it. Since VIP Jamaica, however, the increased number of farmers, fish production and marketing linkages attracted several input suppliers to improve their services to the target enterprises. For example, as suppliers of feed began to acknowledge increased numbers of farmers (potential customers) in the market, they began soliciting information from the farmers in order to source the most suitable feeds at significantly lower wholesale prices. Suppliers of pumps were observed working with farmers to identify and source more energy-efficient pumps and providing improved spare parts and servicing. Suppliers that the program did not engage directly were observed exhibiting the same behaviors.

Photos and Videos

A video description of the project:



An interview with project manager Nicardo Neil: 



Photos of the project:


For more information on the program, its mission, strategy, and progress to date, please read the following: 

Ornamental Fish Project Summary (Word Document)

Building A Bridge Progress Report (Word Document)

Intervention Plan Consolidator Development (Word Document)

Intervention Plan Creating Farm Clusters (Word Document)

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