Opportunities for agriculture after COVID-19


Opportunities for agriculture after COVID-19

Friday, April 03, 2020

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Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) President Richard Pandohie makes a valid point in his suggestion that farmers and the wider agricultural sector become more engaged in the use of technology.

Limited use of technology, Mr Pandohie correctly pointed out in an interview with this newspaper earlier this week, has led to many farmers reporting massive losses due to the unavailability of markets triggered by the onslaught of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on Jamaica.

As it now stands, many farmers are helplessly watching their crops go to waste.

Mr Pandohie pointed specifically to post-harvest management technology which includes cold storage, flash freezing, and value-added technologies, arguing that farmers who produce mostly perishables would reap greater benefits if they were to utilise some of these methods.

The point, as we stated before, makes perfect sense, but we expect that many of the country's farmers, particularly those whose operations are small, are unable to invest in the type of technology suggested, as the equipment is very expensive.

It is against that background that we again point to the wisdom of Mr Gassan Azan's Lakes Pen Agri-Ventures project which, he has said, will utilise the type of technology that will be of great benefit to farmers and consumers.

Mr Azan is investing more than $11 billion to create a state-of-the-art agricultural development on 400 acres of land in St Catherine.

The project, which will be rolled out over several phases, includes 25 acres of greenhouses, 50 acres of orchards and open fields in the first instance. When it is up and running the project will essentially enhance Jamaica's involvement in the global ready meals market, which was estimated at US$219.69 billion in 2018.

Experts in this sector have told us that the rapidly expanding food packaging industry, as well as growing demand for minimally processed and additive-free food products with extended shelf life are driving the growth of the ready meals market.

Additionally, the market is being impacted by changing consumer lifestyle, which is seeing an increasing demand for convenience foods which save time and effort in preparation.

It has already been reported that Mr Azan's Lakes Pen Agri-Ventures project will also function as a mother farm through the development of a network of certified small farmers who will be contracted to produce according to the highest marketplace standards.

That, we believe, should be of great interest to Jamaica's farming community and should contribute significantly to reducing the country's food import bill — an ideal that has recently been raised in the public sphere by two of Jamaica's leading and respected businessmen: Mr Don Wehby, group CEO at GraceKennedy Limited, and Mr Christopher Levy, Jamaica Broilers Group president and CEO.

There's no doubt that how we conduct business will change significantly post-COVID-19. The farming community, we hope, will make use of the opportunities for greater preservation and use of their products.

Until that time, we encourage Jamaicans to support our farmers as they will need the funds earned now in order to resume planting and keep the island's food supply chain running.

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