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FEATURE STORYApril 25, 2024

Growth and New Opportunities Follow Boost to Surinamese Small Businesses

Regina Wachter Wijmans

Regina Wachter Wijmans’s life was not easy as a small-scale farmer. She made her living by growing cassava and selling it in the local market.

World Bank

Entrepreneurs in Suriname, many of them women, are breaking down barriers and growing their businesses. They are transforming struggling ventures into ones that are expanding into foreign markets. The key to their success?  SURGE, a World Bank-financed initiative. 

Surinamese businesses face many obstacles, including difficulties with accessing finance, low business capacity, and inadequate integration into global export value chains, with only a few local companies actively exporting their products outside of the country.  Additionally, women’s participation in business is low: only 32.7 percent of firms in Suriname have female ownership, which is significantly lower than the regional average of 49.9 percent.  

But this dynamic is changing. The World Bank’s SURGE project has already helped more than 200 firms to improve their business operations and provided grants to 130 medium and small enterprises, of which 60 percent are women-owned.  

From Struggle to Profit 

Regina Wachter Wijmans’s life was not easy as a small-scale farmer. She made her living by growing cassava and selling it in the local market. On the days when she was not able to sell much, she would go to other villages and try to sell her produce there. Sometimes she would have luck, and sometimes - not. On bad days, she would come back home empty-handed, a challenging task when you have ten children to feed. 

But things changed for Regina when she joined Surivit, a social cooperative enterprise specializing in fruit and cassava processing. The cooperative produces a variety of products, including cassava flour, baby porridge, cassava pancake mixes, and cassava flakes both for local use and for export.  Surivit secured $ 300,000 from SURGE, making it one of the largest grantees. 

At the heart of Surivit’s mission is women’s empowerment, especially those from indigenous communities. Surivit is a company formed from the women’s cooperative Wi! Uma fu Sranan (“We the women of Suriname”), which supports indigenous women engaged in agricultural entrepreneurship. Regina is among 38 other women farmers whom Surivit employs.

Using the grant money, the cooperative improved its technology and operations, investing in a processing line, freezing facility, dry storage, and a new tractor. Upgraded infrastructure and technology are boosting the cooperative's productivity, enabling farmers to increase their earnings.

“Before I joined the cooperative, I had no steady income. Now I am profiting from my plot. I sell all my produce to the cooperative. Two of my eldest children are also farming with me now” says Regina. “My dream is to have my own store, where I would sell different produce, including maroon specialty food – peanut rice, cassava soup, banana soup, coconut rice – traditional Saramaccan food items” she adds. She is edging closer to realizing that dream with the stream of income she is now able to generate. 

The SURGE is also supporting Surivit with advisory and capacity-building services aimed at helping Surivit expand its operations and set up export channels through participation in international trade fairs, for example.

“I am very happy to see these women entrepreneurs, who have made a lot of progress in producing cassava-based products. They do need to update their mechanization processes and technology, and I am glad that our program is supporting them with that upgrade” said Carlos Felipe Jaramillo, LAC Vice-President, during his inaugural visit to Suriname in March. 

Since its launch, the SURGE has become a trusted partner for many businesses, especially those owned by women. The project will continue evolving and supporting the growth of small-scale business owners paving the way for a promising future not only for Regina and other farmers like her but also for the next generation of entrepreneurs in Suriname.

Regina’s story was recorded during the recent visit of Carlos Felipe Jaramillo, LAC Vice-President to Suriname and Guyana in March 2024. During the visit, Felipe met with the Governments of Suriname and Guyana, both nations with burgeoning oil sectors poised to significantly impact their economies and regional dynamics.

Carlos Felipe Jaramillo, LAC Vice-President
World Bank Vice President for the Latin America and the Caribbean Region, Carlos Felipe Jaramillo is joined by Lilia Burunciuc, Country Director for the Caribbean countries and Ms. Diletta Doretti is the Resident Representative for Guyana and Suriname on a visit to Surivit – an enterprise supported by the World Bank-financed SURGE Project.




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