Top Mountain Limited, a community-based income generating enterprise located in St. Catherine, has given residents hope, by using resources that once go to waste as a means of economic empowerment.
Established three years ago from a 2001 grant of over $300,000 from the Social and Economic Support Programme (SESP), and a 2007 US$88,000 donation from the Japanese Government, it produces fruit juices from mangoes that once rot on the ground during mid-year.
“The Member of Parliament at the time (2001), Alethia Barker, gave the community $380,000 (out of her SESP allocation) and Mrs. Nelly Richards, a social worker in the area, was given the task of identifying what we could do with the money,” states salesman at Top Mountain Limited, Aston Thomas.
“In her proposal, she indicated that the community produces mangoes, naseberry, pineapple and other fruits, and that we could build a processing plant and process the fruits. RADA came in and helped with sourcing the additional funds that were needed. They provided the training and, with a piece of land made available by Dr. Rosalee Hamilton, whose father was a community person, we got started,” Mr. Thomas explains.
Workers preparing Top Juice, manufactured by Top Mountain Limited,left to right are: Charmaine Richards, Norma Dehaney and Twana Lee-Brown.
Three years later, the project has a staff of seven, supplies outlets in three other parishes and several towns in St. Catherine, assisted with the recent refurbishing of a community meeting place, donated funds to the patching of roads in the community, and gave a grant of $50,000 to students in the community who passed their Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT).
“We are united in the community. We have our hitches, but when it comes to working together, or uniting together to achieve for the community, we don’t fallback, we just do our thing,” Mr. Thomas says.
At the inking of the agreement for the funding of the project, at the Japanese embassy in Kingston, in February 2007, then Ambassador to Jamaica, His Excellency Mashiro Obata, said that the lot of the Top Mountain citizen should improve with the project.
“The vision of this community self-help effort is not unfamiliar to the Jamaican landscape, and is not the first one to be funded by the Government of Japan. The simplicity of the project is its strength, and it pronounces that a community should see opportunities in its natural resources,” he remarked.
Office Assistant at the facility, Tracy-Ann Whittle, who received on the job training at the factory, shared with JIS News that she was very curious about making juices, originally, and now is able to make all kinds.
“We have survived here because of team spirit, honesty and communicating with each other,” she notes.
Joseph Nelson, who supplies juices to schools and other establishments in rural St. Catherine, said before Top Juice, he had to travel miles to town centres to get the products.
“I have continued to do business here, because I have developed a relationship with the staff, and I have had good comments on the juice from consumers, and my supply is reliable,” he states.
Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) Manager for the Social Services and Home Economics Unit, Lorna Gooden, states that it was in 2000, while one of the project managers, Kiddo Smith, was assisting the community with a multi-million dollar road project funded by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), that her agency saw the untapped opportunities in the area.
“They had a strong community organisation, and that made the effort much easier. We sent two persons to be trained at the Scientific Research Council (SRC) in making jams and jellies and juices. We offered training in post harvesting and we currently do follow up training to ensure that whatever new technology is available, can be passed on to them,” she says.
“This story is about what can happen. There are resources in every community, not just material resources, but the people themselves. It is amazing to know the talent and goodwill that exist in communities. It is just for us to pull the strengths that they have and give support, so that they can utilise their full potential,” she adds.
Manager of the project, Zephaniah Kellyman, notes that after the citizen’s association, under the leadership of past President Robert Brown, was able to get a long stretch of the community’s road rehabilitated by JSIF, it opened eyes to greater things that could be achieved through community activism.
“Mr. Brown has started this project, and we are going to continue it and pass it on to generations. We want to get the farmers to produce and supply us,” she says.
“This factory has given hope, we want more people to be empowered from what goes on here. So, even though we might not be able to employ many people, we want them to supply us with their produce, or buy from us and make a living from that,” he shares.