Sandals consumes whopping 5 million pounds of local farm produce yearly

Buy local first before looking overseas, Stewart instructs resorts

Executive editor — special assignment

Friday, June 22, 2018

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While Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Audley Shaw was correct in urging greater use of local farm produce by the hotel sector to avoid market gluts, he overlooked those who were already well on board that train.

That is the view of Sandals Resorts International's (SRI's) Jordan Samuda, the man who spends much of his waking moments carrying out Chairman Gordon “Butch” Stewart's instructions that the resort must “buy local first” before looking overseas.

Samuda, the group director for Sandals' Procurement Division, suggested that Shaw was not alone in his belief about the need to bring more land into agricultural production and that farmers should earn more for their labour than is currently the case.

He said were it left to Sandals, gluts in farm produce would likely be a thing of the past, because the resort is a firm believer that Jamaican farmers should benefit more from linkages to the hotel/tourism sector.

To back his claims, Samuda noted: “Sandals does not import any produce directly. We purchase all produce via local providers who farm themselves, import or buy from local farmers.

“That is why SRI can boast that 90 per cent of its total volume of produce purchased in Jamaica annually is locally produced items, involving some 180 farmers,” Samuda said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer, of which Stewart is also chairman.

“Sandals Resorts International (SRI), through its procurement division, remains committed to supporting local industry across all sectors,” added Samuda. “SRI doesn't focus only on locally purchased items; we go deeper and are focused on locally produced items.”

Samuda stressed the critical difference between buying locally, which could include products which are imported, and using local products which were produced in Jamaica, saying: “Whilst we continue to support local Jamaican distributors of imported product, we feel strongly that the Jamaican productive sector is where our focus should be.”

Crunching the numbers further, he said the total annual value of produce purchased by Sandals is over $700 million, while the total value of locally farmed product is over $500 million annually. On the contrary, the total yearly value of imported produce used by the group is less than $200 million, primarily items that Jamaican farmers are unable to grow.

Further, the total volume of produce consumed by the resort group is 5.4 million pounds, with locally farmed produce representing a significant 4.9 million pounds of that.

He said that SRI's procurement policy was that the resort would endeavour to meet its requirement via the local market, with locally produced items, and would only turn to international sources when it could not.

But Sandals goes further: by deciding to utilise locally produced products to satisfy its demand for its overseas resorts in seven other Caribbean islands. Among examples of such local items being exported are Appleton rum, Blue Mountain coffee, local pepper sauces, and retail souvenirs.

“We are also reviewing our large volume of Asia purchases for items such as paper products with the goal to move that production to Jamaica for all our resorts — not only in Jamaica, but overseas as well,” said Samuda.

Sandals has been proactive in identifying Irish potato as a crop which can be harvested in Jamaica in significant quantities, thus removing the need to import. The resort chain has provided selected farmers with assistance in the form of imported Irish potato seeds from Holland valued more than $25 million.

Acknowledging that the initiative had suffered some setbacks caused by weather challenges, he said SRI remained committed to it and was in the process of securing another shipment of potato seeds which will be issued to farmers later this year.

“SRI is eager to expand this programme to other crops and has identified a few opportunities which are now being pursued that will further reduce import requirements. We don't believe that providing farmers a market for their produce is enough. The hotel sector can do more and Sandals is leading the way in doing more.

“Our Irish potato programme is the first of many farmer-assistance programmes that we are planning to roll out not only in Jamaica, but across the region,” Samuda pledged.

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