JIS News

In 1995, when residents of three communities in St. Ann complained of dust nuisance from the mining operations of the Kaiser bauxite plant, they had no idea that from the dust, would come their source of wealth. From the money they received in compensation from Kaiser, 26 families from Water Valley, Happy Mews and St. D’Acre came together to invest in a chicken farm, which 11 years later is a thriving business, producing thousands of pounds of poultry meat, most of which is sold at the Brown’s Town market.
Kent Skyers, Public and Community Relations Officer at the company, now called St. Ann Bauxite Partners, is reminiscent of proud father, in his praise of the growth of the farm over the last 11 years.
“After we have given the opportunity to the community, they have run the business well to the point where they are now expanding on their own and we are looking forward to see the ways we can assist them in the rearing and marketing of chickens,” he says.
He notes that the chickens reared are of high quality, creating a high demand for the product. “Persons, who actually buy chickens the first time keep coming back so we are convinced that what we have there is an industry that can only get bigger and we want to help them to get bigger,” Mr. Skyers notes.
The families have formed a cooperative for the operation of the enterprise, called the Water Valley Farm Chicken Cooperative, which is registered with the National Cooperative Society of Jamaica.
“This means that your books are audited by the government agency so you have to run it as a business so the main thing is that a group of persons came together, registered as a business entity and have to follow certain regulations,” Mr. Skyers explains. He notes that while most of the chicken is sold in the Brown’s Town market, “the next mission now is to really get involved more in the hotel trade in the parish and as the hotel trade expands, there is going to be a higher demand for chickens and Valley Farm is able and ready and prepared to meet that demand”.
The chicken farm is built on land cleared by Kaiser in the hilly region of Water Valley. In addition to the chicken house, Kaiser also erected a high-tech processing facility, which is equipped with two large freezers and a range of other apparatus. The bauxite company also provided electricity for the farm and installed adequate water storage facilities, as the area was without running water.
Further to this, the company’s maintenance department continues to lend assistance in the upkeep of the chicken farm’s machinery.
Mr. Skyers tells JIS News that although the company retains ownership of the farm’s processing facility and chicken house, the cooperative is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the business such as buying the chickens, and providing feeding and medication.
“Even though .they are now Valley Farm Cooperative’s, we have not left them alone.we have built the facilities and we are now assisting. The company is on the board of directors and we meet quite often so therefore they come to us for help from time to time,” he explains.
Secretary of the Cooperative, Winnifred Moore, expresses similar sentiments, confirming that bauxite company’s assistance has indeed strengthened the operations of the business. “They came and went into negotiations and they decided that what they would do for the people in the community that were suffering from the dust, they would build us this project,” she recalls.
“Since then, they are working with us. had it not been for them we would have stopped long ago. Whatever our problems are, we can call him (Mr. Skyers) any hour of the night .I also have to give thanks to St. Ann Bauxite Company, they are with us too. Whatever the problem at Valley Farm Cooperative, we can call to anyone of them, they are always there for us,” she says.
Recounting the genesis of the community-driven project, the Cooperative Secretary says Kaiser initially offered a specified amount of money as compensation for the residents in the various communities affected by the dust. The 25 families decided to pool the funds together, and with the bauxite company’s approval, moved ahead with plans to jumpstart a chicken-rearing enterprise.
In its earlier days, the coop was built to accommodate 7,000 birds; however, as success materialised for the cooperative’s entrepreneurial efforts, this gave way to gradual expansion. Currently, the coop comfortably accommodates another 3,000 chickens. As to the daily operations at the site, Miss Moore points out that two men are employed to work alternately on a weekly basis to attend to the chickens. An additional 25 persons are also employed to slaughter the fowls and prepare them for freezing.
“When the chickens come first, they are kept in the brooding area for four days. After the four days, they are let loose [but] the guys still have to monitor them carefully because even though they are let loose they need special attention. For instance, in the mornings they would have to wash the (feeding) bottles everyday, they would have to change the paper at least three times per day,” Miss Moore explains to JIS News.
During the six-week rearing period, the chickens consume at least 40 tonnes of feed.
When the time approaches for the chickens to be slaughtered, Miss Morris explains that a sanitary inspector is present to ensure that proper health procedures are followed.
“The inspector has to be there because there are times when we would kill a chicken and it doesn’t look right . so they would call the sanitary inspector,” she says.
Happy as she is with the accomplishments made thus far, Miss Moore cites the mortality rate of the chickens as a thorny issue that needs to be rectified.
On an average of 7,000 to 8,500 chickens reared, approximately 10 per cent die.”Mortality – that is our main problem, we are trying to control our mortality but it is really difficult because sometimes our mortality would go up to 700 . sometimes we go up to 1,000,” she notes.
To deal with the issue, several experts have been consulted to make a diagnosis and offer aid and while plans continue to be hammered out to deal with the problem, Mr. Skyers remains upbeat about the status of the chicken farm.
“The Valley Farm Cooperative has become our flagship project and I go so far as to say in terms of the local bauxite alumina industry, it is one of a kind.
“It is one of the better projects you will find anywhere in terms of how it has been successful … it is one of those projects that we would want replicated across Jamaica, where communities come together and validate input and realise that if they work hard, they are working for themselves whether the company is here or not.that is the kind of project we want to have, where communities come together and manage their affairs properly,” Mr. Skyers notes.