The much-loved sorrel drink has long been a favourite of Jamaicans during the Christmas period.
As appetites grow for the taste of this delicious indigenous Jamaican product, so has the need for increased production of the sorrel plant, the sepals of which are used to make the drink.
The Government has been working to improve efficiency in harvesting the crop, which will not only help to increase yields but aid in reducing labour costs, which is a major factor impeding productivity.
Speaking recently at the opening ceremony for a sorrel harvesting training programme, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, noted that it takes two persons approximately 15 days to harvest one acre of sorrel. This is especially challenging as the Government is also eyeing export markets for the product, which has value-added derivatives.
“Sorrel not only provides the drink that Jamaicans love so dearly, but there are other value-added products such as chutney, squashes, jam, cordials, flavoured water and even ice-cream that have made a great hit in the local market and with the Jamaican Diaspora. These products would be much more competitive even on the world market if we could reduce the cost of labour,” he said.
Twenty Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) extension officers from across the island took part in the two-day training, where they were equipped with knowledge on production techniques to be transferred to farmers.
Experts from the University of Chapingo in Mexico instructed the officers on the correct use of the sorrel harvesting machine, designed and manufactured by the university, to reduce harvesting time and cost. They also received instruction in colour stabilisation in sorrel and secondary products.
According to Specialist in Regional Integration at the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture(IICA) Alfredo Valerio, the machine is able to produce up to 40 kilograms per hour of fresh product.
He explained that the machine takes the freshly cut branches and strips the calyx (sepals) from the seed pod. This, he said “takes most of the labour out of the equation."
“So, although harvesting is done manually, the machine helps stripping the…flower, keeping it fresh. The machine is able to do more work more rapidly, and production would increase,” he said.
Acting Principal Director, Field Services/Operations, RADA, Winston Simpson expressed confidence that the employment of the sorrel harvesting machine would serve to increase productivity.
“Once we can reduce the costs by mechanising the reaping, using these machines, then it will definitely impact on the industry and we could triple our production, because our cost of production would definitely be reduced,” he told JIS News.
He lamented that 60 per cent of the cost of production for sorrel is labour and this labour intensity tends to drive away the farmers. “Farmers are paying up to $40 a pound just to strip sorrel – just to reap it,” he said. Reaping entails taking the buds from the tree and deseeding them to get the petals, which are normally used to make the end products.
Mr. Simpson noted that the country also has the potential to achieve greater yields given that it already produces several varieties of sorrel on a wide scale, though mainly for domestic purposes. These are the Manchester Black, the Clarendon Black, and two varieties of the Bashment, which are reaped three times per year, yielding a tonne per acre.
He informed that last year, a little over 1,100 tonnes of sorrel was reaped from 700 hectares of land, noting that mechanisation would yield even greater results.
To further boost production, Mr. Simpson said RADA is also encouraging young farmers in particular, to cultivate the product, utilizing marginal lands.
Whether enjoyed with a dash of ginger or a shot of rum, sorrel continues to be a drink of choice for many, and with the promise of increased production through the use of technology, Jamaicans and foreigners alike can rest assured of an ample supply of the product to savour for years to come.