Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, said that the Ministry is awaiting a progress report on the proposed divestment of the state-owned Wallenford Coffee Company Limited from the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ), which is leading the process.
Speaking at a press briefing at the Ministry’s Hope Gardens offices on February 23, Mr. Clarke said that to date, only one “serious” bid has been forthcoming for Wallenford.
“It (divestment process) is with the DBJ. They are the ones, who are leading the process and, therefore, we await some of the other consultations that are taking at this point in time. I have indicated to Cabinet that, for the time being, we have to hold (on it) and really have a look at the whole situation,” he stated.
Mr. Clarke highlighted some of the concerns coming out of a recent meeting with stakeholders to discuss Wallenford’s divestment. These, he disclosed, included concerns raised by growers, who have leased property from the government in the Blue Mountain region, of their fate over the long-term.
“They (have indicated that they) would not want us to divest them…to the divestee. Therefore, they would prefer an arrangement, which gives them direct contact with the government, who has leased them those properties (as) they don’t want to be sub-leased,” he said.
Additionally, Mr. Clarke said, the farmers were concerned about the preservation of the Wallenford brand, which, he pointed, “has an international reputation”. He said that “they would want the…brand to remain as a national asset, if you might call it that; so, there are some sticking points there”.
He noted however that “you can’t sell the meat and leave the bones; what is important is that the entire animal has to be sold, and that is where we are at, at this point in time”.
If executed, Wallenford’s divestment would follow that of the Mavis Bank Coffee Factory Limited, which was divested last October to the Jamaica Producers Group (JPG) and Pan Jam Investment Trust (Jamaica), which have equal 50 per cent holdings in the entity.
Pan Jam, a Chinese entity, already has a stake in the local agricultural sector, having purchased the state-run sugar factories: Frome, Westmoreland; Monymusk, Clarendon; and Bernard Lodge, St. Catherine, last year.
General Manager of Mavis Bank Coffee Factory, Senator Norman Grant, advised that under the terms of the divestment agreement for the facility, both JPG and Pan Jam have committed to rolling out development programmes for the 6,000 farmers, who supply beans. Further that there is a commitment to expanding the factory, “as it relates to traceability issues and environment issues”.
He informed that Mavis Bank has already entered into commitments covering the period up to December, to purchase some 55 per cent of the total Blue Mountain coffee production.
Senator Grant, who has been retained to head the factory’s overall operations, advised that Minister Clarke has met with the new owners, whom, he said, have given an undertaking to develop and build the industry, over time, adding that Mavis Bank was “here for the long haul”.
By Douglas McIntosh, JIS Reporter