The St Catherine was abuzz with activity on October 30, 2019 when the Agro-Investment Corporation hosted the Rural Agricultural Development Authority at the Amity Hall Agro-Park for the training of “Plant Doctors” to host “Plant Clinics” where farmers are able to take samples of crops in for issues to be diagnosed and prescriptions with recommendations on how to maintain economic feasibility while undertaking corrective actions. The move will assist farmers in identifying issues associated with crop production and remedying same to ensure their investment is protected.
All hands on deck for the commencement of the Global GAP certification process. Representatives from key stakeholder agencies such as the Ministry of Industry Commerce Agriculture and Fisheries, Rural Agricultural Development Authority, Agricultural Competitiveness Project and California based food safety consulting firm- Guardian Harvest Inc, join the Agro-Investment Corporation at the start of the Global GAP audits which were completed in October 2019. The certification process included training of over 100 farmers on the Agro-Parks on Good Agricultural Practices to get ready to access export markets with Jamaican produce such as: Callaloo, Onion, Scotch Bonnet Pepper, Sweet Potato, Cucumber, Sweet Peppers, Pumpkin, Sorrel, Papaya, Thyme, Watermelon, Cabbage, Carrot, Okra, Cassava, Tomato, Dasheen, West Indian Red Pepper and Sorrel.
The Agro-Investment Corporation team shares information on current trending agri-business opportunities to with beneficiaries under the Essex Valley Agricultural Development Project (EVADP) at a Community Information Fair held on October 16, 2019 at the Lititz Primary School in St Elizabeth. The EVADP was developed by Agro-Invest and is being funded through a £35 million grant from the United Kingdom Caribbean Infrastructure Partnership Fund (UKCIF), which is administered through the Caribbean Development Bank.
Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, interacts with a champion black poll calf from the Minard Estates Farms during his tour of the cattle ring at the Denbigh Agricultural Show which was held in Denbigh, Clarendon from August 4-6, 2019. Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) President, Lenworth Fulton looks on.
Chief Executive Officer of Agro-Invest, Dr Al Powell, presents the Agro-Investment Corporation trophy to proud recipient Dr Karl Wellington of Wellington’s YS Farms for their Champion Polled Brahman Bull. The presentation was made at the 67th staging of the Denbigh Agricultural Show held from August 4-6 in Denbigh, Clarendon.
Several entities that fall under the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries will be transformed and modernised.
Portfolio Minister, Hon. Audley Shaw, who made the disclosure during his contribution to the 2019/20 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives on April 23, said that the process involves the merger, removal, privatisation and closeout of operations.
By way of Cabinet Decision No. 20/18 dated June 4, 2018, the following transformation activities are being executed: merger of the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC); completion of the merger of the Agricultural Marketing Corporation, Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) and Agricultural Support Services and Productive Project Fund Limited into the Agro-Investment Corporation; and the incorporation of the Banana Board in the Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority.
In addition, the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) and the Jamaica 4-H Clubs are to transition to non-governmental status; the Tobacco Industry Control Authority will be closed; and the Tobacco Industry Regulation Act repealed.
Other activities include divestment or privatisation of Jamaica Exotic Flavours and Essences, while the Veterinary Board will transition to body corporate status.
A September 30, 2019 deadline has been communicated for completion of some of the transformation activities, with the exception of the Jamaica 4-H Clubs, JAS, Veterinary Board and Jamaica Exotic Flavours and Essences.
Charmaine Blair-Stewart loves her cassava plants. Her farm which is located in the Plantain Gardens Agro Park in St Thomas, which is at the foothills of the Blue and John Crow Mountains is approximately 11 acres; however, she pays close attention to the seven acres, where plants are located to ensure that they are always in the most pristine condition.
She maintains her nine varieties of cassavas because they have become her main crop. She is also grateful for the opportunity to participate in the ‘Project Grow’ a local sourcing initiative started by Red Stripe in 2013. The objective is to replace imported high maltose corn syrup with 40 per cent cassava starch in the company’s brewing process by 2020.
She states that the initiative saved her from chronic depression.
“More than five years ago, I lost my second husband two months and eight days after we were married and became extremely depressed to the point where I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. I was extremely reclusive at the time and that lasted until I was introduced to the Red Stripe Project Grow Initiative and I started tending to my plants,” she explained.
“Since then, I have spent a lot of time here with the plants because being here is extremely therapeutic. I am also anti-social, and find that plants are easier to deal with than people. Therefore, I also talk to them daily as I prune or spray them.”
The mother of one became a part of the Project Grow Initiative in 2018, after learning about the programme at a co-operative meeting, at the agricultural park. She was immediately impressed with the initiative and allotted a section of her farm to participate in the programme.
“The experience has been good so far,” she related. “I was not in a right place before; and now, this has helped me to become settled, as a result of the challenge involved and the guidance I have received.”
Blair Stewart currently employs four persons; and also grows Irish potatoes, pumpkins, onions and scotch bonnet peppers.
“While I was growing up, I had no plans to be a farmer,” she affirmed. “Farming wasn’t my thing. My father used to say that the only times my hands touched the ground was when I fell.”
The former English Language teacher is now passionate about her current profession. She is on her farm from as early as 5:00 a.m. and sometimes as late as 7:00 p.m., depending on the number of tasks she needs to complete.
As part of the Project Grow Initiative, farmers are able to obtain financial assistance from JN Small Business Loans, which can be accessed through the JNSBL Climate Smart Loan, to purchase: high yielding drought resistant cassava sticks; fertiliser and drip irrigation, by way of equipment and installation at four percent per annum on the reducing balance. Farmers can also benefit from the Agricultural Loan Special, a programme, which allows the Development Bank of Jamaica to guarantee up to 80 per cent of the funds provided to farmers.
“I was at a Red Stripe forum and someone from JNSBL spoke about the assistance that farmers could receive,” she explained. “I was impressed with how the funds would assist me; and, it has helped me to invest in the farm.”
Gillian Hyde, general manager, JNSBL said the company was pleased to assist Blair-Stewart.
“Mrs Blair-Stewart has shown that persons can overcome hardships by doing something they are passionate about. We are, therefore, pleased that she found an avenue to help her to cope; and to provide employment for others. We salute her for her drive and passion,” Hyde said.
Stephannie Coy, project manager, of the Desnoes & Geddes Foundation, explained that a part of the Project Grow Initiative was to facilitate funding for farmers through financial institutions, which could assist them to expand their operations.
“One component of the initiative is to create an environment which facilitates conversations between farmers and financial institutions, so that farmers in the programme, such as Mrs Blair-Stewart, can meet their needs,” Mrs Coy explained, noting that, “They will be able to access funds at attractive interest rates; and benefit from a nine to 12-month moratorium. Therefore, we will continue to assist farmers in the programme as they play their part in developing Jamaica.”
The youngest of seven children, Blair-Stewart plans to expand her cassava farm to 100 acres, eventually growing all the nine varieties.
“Farming and the Project Grow Initiative have changed my life for the better,” she stated. “I am now emerging from the low point in my life because of what I have been doing and I am thankful for this opportunity and the support received from the Red Stripe Project Grow Initiative and JN Small Business Loans.”
Blair-Stewart, who enjoys watching TV and playing video games on her phone during her spare time, has one advice for young farmers.
“Register with the Rural Agriculture Development Authority and be certified,” she advised. “It can open many doors for you.”
IT’S A project in its nascent stage and Cabinet is yet to approve its structure, but the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries (MICAF) plans to tie down deals with private sector companies on a logistical network for farm produce.
As proposed by MICAF Minister Audley Shaw, the Government is hoping to leverage the packaging and distribution strength of companies such as GraceKennedy and Caribbean Producers Jamaica to increase throughput for the average farmer.
The plan, as it currently stands, includes privatisation and modernisation of the nine-acre Agricultural Marketing Corporation complex in Kingston under the public-private partnership model, as one of a network of six agro-processing centres to be spread across Jamaica.
The other five centres proposed, as noted by Shaw in his contribution to the Sectoral Debate in Parliament on Tuesday, are: GraceKennedy’s new centre at Denbigh in Clarendon; Lydford Logistics in St Ann; JamIsland Processing in Williamsfield, Manchester, operated by entrepreneurs Winston Miller and Shereen Smith; Caribbean Producers Jamaica; and Rainforest Seafoods, owned by Brian Jardim.
Group CEO for GraceKennedy, Don Wehby, confirmed talks with MICAF on the agro centre project, but has interest in more than just the mid-island operation. GraceKennedy already buys produce such as ackee, callaloo, yam, sweet potato, “and of course pepper” from small farmers.
“We are anxious to get more information on the AMC. It is a great location for agro export and processing,” Wehby said.
Acting CEO of the Agro-Invest Corporation, Michael Pryce, said more details about the centres would be released after Cabinet signs off on the project.
However, MICAF is attempting, it appears, to develop a network around logistical activity that companies already engage in, individually. GraceKennedy, CPJ and Rainforest are known to contract with local farmers for raw material for their factories.
But they and other companies engaged in similar arrangements all have the same complaint – farmers do not produce in consistent volumes and quality, and supplies are unreliable. The farmers on the other hand, complain of product rejections and inadequate compensation for their output.
Pryce noted that much of the marketing problems faced by farmers result from a repeating pattern of “short periods of over-production, followed by shortage”. He adds that agroprocessing and storage facilities can help, but cannot substitute for proper production planning that takes into consideration crop varieties and volumes, and timing of production.
Farmers want to be assured that whatever they produce will have a market, Pryce said, but due to “the absence of proper structuring of production, including scheduling, good agricultural practices, crop choices, proper infrastructure, inclusive of access roads, proper transportation, competitive prices, proper payment mechanisms, etc, this is not always a reality”, he added.
The market for farm produce has requirements in terms of when and where products are available, acceptable prices and quality, traceability and good standards of production, storage and handling, and transportation.
The network of agro-processing centres is meant to help meet those market needs, Pryce said.
They will be operated as joint venture partnerships, but consultations continue on how those arrangements will be structured, he added.
Caribbean Producers CEO David Lowe says CPJ, helped by its newly commissioned 180,000-square-foot warehouse, is “shifting towards import substitution for some of its needs and developing local vertical supply chain where possible”.
As operator of a meat-processing plant – its products include fresh pork, sausages, hamburgers and bacon – the company has linkages with local pork farmers as a source of raw material.
At the other end of the spectrum, as a distributor, CPJ also distributes tilapia for local fish farmers through food service and retail channels, including Algix fish farm in St Elizabeth, he said.
“Our recent expansion will now enable our entry into the produce business, which can support local farmers in certain crop types,” he said.
Still, he noted that CPJ needs to be convinced that the AMC/Agro Centre programme can be viable before the company commits to a partnership with the state.
“Any capital expenditure or participation in this vision will be a process of due diligence, supported by a robust business case with the supportive government policy framework in place,” Lowe said.
The AMC complex in Kingston, once privatised, will be redeveloped as a purpose-built and managed space for the private sector to do consolidation, packing, distributing, exporting and agro-processing, Pryce said.
He noted that the old AMC model was discarded from the early 1980s as being unsustainable, adding that the role it performed as a government-operated centralised marketing and distribution system was taken up by the private sector in the form of consolidators, exporters and middlemen, including “higglers”.
“I think revival of the AMC is more likely to move to a much greater role for the private sector in this process as the main players, while Government will play an enabling and facilitatory role,” Pryce added.
Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Audley Shaw, says he is ensuring that at least 30 per cent of participants in the agriculture and entrepreneurship programmes under his portfolio are women and young people.
He said that the objective is to promote inclusive growth and development.
He cited initiatives being undertaken through the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC), Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), Agro Investment Corporation (AIC), the 4-H Clubs, among others, to facilitate the involvement of women and youth in micro businesses.
Among them is the Women’s Entrepreneurship Support (WES) Project, which provides grants to women operating micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).
WES is being implemented in three phases over a three-year period, commencing this fiscal year.
Initially, the project was to begin with four grants of $250,000 each and a capacity-building workshop offered through the JBDC, but following consultations with the Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Hon. Olivia Grange, the grant was increased to approximately $500,000 and the number of recipients increased to 10.
The number of recipients will grow to 15 during the 2020/2021 fiscal year and reach 20 in 2021/2022.
“These are exciting times for Jamaica, for our economy, our industries and our people. I am very happy to be a part of this movement towards creating a more prosperous, equitable and inclusive society,” Mr. Shaw said.
He was making his contribution to the 2019/2020 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives on Tuesday (April 23).
Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Audley Shaw, says the Government has identified four distinct markets for locally grown foods.
These markets, he notes, are the hotel industry; the CARICOM region, where fresh and processed foods can be exported duty-free; the diaspora, and the national school-feeding programme, which will see children eating fresh foods, instead of imported and often genetically modified foods.
The Minister was delivering the main address at the Clarendon Municipal Corporation-sponsored Clarendon Agro-Economic Symposium, held at St. Gabriel’s Church Hall in May Pen on April 9.
Mr. Shaw said that Jamaicans are being encouraged to use locally grown produce, as this will assist in lowering the food import bill.
The Minister said there is a plan to increase local production, and “we will start with some 30,000 to 40,000 acres of land that will be leased”.
“I am sending a message to all, including those who have land that is now idle – use it or lose it – because we have to ensure the country’s food security,” the Minister said.
The Minister said he is encouraging farmers in need of land to come with a plan, and “we will find creative ways to help you, starting with irrigation systems”.
Mr. Shaw cited the Essex Valley agricultural project in St. Elizabeth, where about 1,000 farmers are being assisted with drip irrigation.
He also noted that farmers in Clarendon and St. Catherine will not be left out, as they will also be helped with small drip irrigation systems.
Meanwhile, the Minister said that agro-processing centres are to be set up across the country and they will be run by private individuals, adding that GraceKennedy will set up an agro-processing centre in Denbigh, Clarendon, very soon.
He said the company will be able to purchase foods from farmers and process them at the centre.
The Minister noted that another centre will be operating from Williamsfield in Manchester, for the processing of fresh foods, so farmers can be certain of markets for all they produce.
Mr. Shaw said that at Lydford in St Ann, there will be a modern agro-processing facility and storage for fresh foods that can be sold to hotels in a timely manner.
He said that through these initiatives, large and small farmers will have the certainty “that what they grow, they will be able to sell”.
Sponsors of the symposium were JAMPRO, GraceKennedy, United Nations Jamaica, H&L Agro, AP&FM Project, JN Small Business Loans, National PC Bank, Agro-Invest Corporation, Social Development Commission and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).