Walkerswood Caribbean in St. Ann, processor of Jamaican spices, launched its Green Adventure farm project in New Forest, South Manchester on Thursday, February 5.
This agricultural project is expected to provide the company with several tonnes of escallion for its processing operation.
Minister of Agriculture, Roger Clarke, who launched the project, explained that the 5.6 hectare (14 acre) Green Adventure project was approved in December 2002 at a cost of $1.2 million.
“Of this amount, the Agricultural Support Services Project (ASSP) of the Ministry contributed $570,000, and today we are also happy to be handing over $500,000 worth of food processing equipment to the plant,” he said.
Minister Clarke revealed that on an annual basis, Walkerswood needed in excess of 340,909 kilogrammes (750,000 lbs) of escallion in order to fulfil contractual obligations, both locally and overseas.
“It is estimated that by year 2008, the demand will increase to 545,454 kilogrammes (1.2 million lbs) and one of the problems the company has had to contend with, is the inconsistency in terms of available supply,” he said.
The Minister pointed out that this was one of the main reasons which led to the setting up of the new venture in Southern Manchester.
“Walkerswood spearheaded this initiative, knowing that the new facility would allow it to do its intermediary processing of escallion in New Forest. It would also facilitate larger volume purchases from St Elizabeth farmers as well as serve to encourage more farmers to increase their production of escallion,” he said.
Minister Clarke said the mere fact that the project had been established, augured well for many farmers from Manchester and St. Elizabeth.
“The partnering between Walkerswood and the Ministry’s Agricultural Support Services Project represents the kind of collaboration between the public and private sector, which the government is encouraging in an effort to promote sustainable agricultural production,” he said.
Mr. Clarke highlighted some data that had been collected from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) for the period January to June 2003.
“This study shows that a little over 5.1 million kilogrammes of escallion, thyme, sweet pepper, hot pepper and ginger were imported at a total cost of $103.5 million to supplement local production. Can you imagine the opportunities our farmers have, if only they can bring up their production levels to tap into this market,” he said.
The Minister said that he was well aware of many of the realities that local farmers were facing in their effort to increase production.
“Some of the challenges farmers and growers of condiments have had to contend with include viral infestation and diseases, especially for pepper and ginger, lack of proper irrigation facilities and the ever present problem of inadequate capital to finance large scale production, all of which impact negatively in the form of low yields,” he added.
Mr. Clarke pointed out that in spite of this, the Ministry had taken a number of bold initiatives to promote the growth of the condiment sub-sector.
“We are presently rehabilitating the ginger industry through a project started in 1999, which see us providing disease free material to farmers at subsidised prices and sometimes even free of cost. We also provide much needed technical support and advice and so the result has been a gradual increase in ginger export from two tonnes in 2001 to 58 tonnes last year,” he indicated.
The Minister also noted that in the area of the application of improved technology, progress was also very evident.
“Our research and development division continues to provide assistance to farmers in combating viruses and diseases with the use of applied technology. In collaboration with the University of the West Indies, a virus resistant line of scotch bonnet pepper has been developed and should be ready for testing by November of this year,” he said.
Managing Director for Walkerswood Caribbean, Woodrow Mitchell, noted that it had been a very “long haul” to get to the stage of launching Green Adventures Farming Limited.
“I want to thank all the persons who have been involved – the labourers the farmers and ASSP – who have partnered with us and have been at it these several months. The facility will be certified according to international standards,” he said.
Mr. Mitchell indicated that the company and its farming arm, Green Adventures, planned to remain in operation in central Jamaica for a very long time.”We are not here as a little fly-by-night company. We want to tell the farmers that we have made a significant investment here, because we are serious. We have a total of 5.6 hectares (14 acres) here and also a well, which should help us to avoid the hazards of any drought,” he said.
Mr. Mitchell emphasised that each individual connected to the venture had a role to play.”The contract farmers in particular, are key to the success of our efforts. We look forward to the day when we will have enough suppliers to satisfy our objectives. We expect to work with our farmers and for both of us in partnership to meet each other half-way,” he said.
The Managing Director lamented that Walkerswood has had to depend a lot on imports for its operation.
“We have had to be importing escallion and pepper and we think it is a shame that we have to do that. In my view, the soil in this country, especially in this area of Jamaica, is very fertile and good for the cultivation of these condiments. We have therefore come to show you that this is the outlet for your products, so you do not have to look anymore to find avenues for the distribution of your escallion and peppers,” Mr. Mitchell told the farmers.