Agro-Processing Project Mushrooms into Successful Enterprise


Situated in Morgan’s Pass at the foot of the Bull Head Mountains in Clarendon is an idea conceived in 1966, which has mushroomed into a thriving enterprise. At the North Clarendon Processing Company factory plant, Jamaican fruits and vegetables are processed into some of the most delicious canned produce that can be found this side of the West Indies.
This business, which began years ago as an agro-processing project, when then agricultural extension trainer at the University of the West Indies, Ivan Tomlinson and a group of extension officers returned from Puerto Rico, excited by the project, has flourished into a thriving business which now employs up to 60 workers in peak production time and at least a dozen during the off season.
In an interview with JIS News, Mr. Tomlinson, who is now the Chairman of the company explains that having spent his whole life in agriculture since 1920, he thought the idea had been an excellent one for developing the agro-processing industry in rural Jamaica. “We started off by processing fruits, doing candied fruits and citrus peel for the baking industry, and canning ackee in brine. Because we started with very little capital, we have been pumping everything that we make back into the business,” says Mr. Tomlinson.
He added that the project had been moving forward steadily, dependent on the dedication of the people and their resources. Some 4,000 farmers are presently involved in the project, 100 of which are shareholders. The Jamaica Agricultural Society owns 51 per cent of the shares while the workers and farmers own the remaining shares.
In 1969, the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS)/ North Clarendon Rural Development Self Help Project survey was carried out and documented by Hugh Robotham in collaboration with the JAS and agricultural extension students, to explore the viability of such an operation.
One of the initial tasks of the managing committee of the North Clarendon Development Project at the time was to establish as its goal, the improvement of the social and economic condition through the development of the human and physical resources of the area. Mr. Tomlinson says the six-month survey, which was very extensive found that most of the land was suited for tree crops and that was the direction in which the project went.
The company was registered in 1975 and today, North Clarendon Processing packages canned fruits and vegetables mainly for Grace, Kennedy as well as Geddes Grant and Consolidated Distributors. The factory has kept with the times, Mr. Tomlinson assures, using some of the latest procedures in agro-processing, and employing the technical expertise of Technical Solutions Limited.
There are plans afoot to get into the export market and to this end, Mr. Tomlinson further divulges, the group is working toward making the company Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) certified. He notes that the community is very involved and supportive of the enterprise’s efforts. “They have gotten to the point of saying ‘our factory’,” he smiles.
Poignant in his opinions about the role and direction of the country’s agricultural industry, this veteran of the soil states, “we have to revolutionize our agricultural system. We have to utilize our good tractable lands, such as those growing sugarcane today.never will we ever be able to compete with places such as the United States by using hoe and machete on the hillside.”
On the subject of food safety, Mr. Tomlinson also suggests that a programme of “formidable self sufficiency” to be developed and agricultural decisions and programmes made based on Jamaica’s nutritional needs.
He points out that no pressure had to be put on the younger generation to get into areas such as medicine and law and that the agricultural sector had to be made similarly attractive to get young persons involved. “Make agriculture lucrative and attractive and the young people will come,” he declares.
“We have a fantastic strength in that we have a season that lasts 365 days of the year. We can compete with any part of the world if we use the right lands. We have some of the best lands in any part of the world,” he continues. Mr. Tomlinson says all of the island’s good, arable lands that can compete with the rest of the world already has all the infrastructure such as water and roads in place and that this was a distinct advantage. “Four fifths of the country is hilly, therefore we should cover our hillsides with tree crops and instead of spending a fortune on forest and timber trees, put in fruit trees,” the Chairman states.

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