“With every crisis comes challenges and opportunities,” said Floyd Green, Minister of State in Jamaica Ministry of Industry, Trade, Agriculture and Fisheries, from the devastating decline in COVID-19 in Jamaica’s tourism sector, which has created an imbalance in supply and demand and satiated agricultural output in the local market.
“There has never been a better time to tackle Jamaica’s consumption patterns, to change the big picture,” the Minister said, the new Say Yes To Fresh ‘buy’ government campaign that has asked the private sector to absorb excess production and re-educate consumers about the importance of making food purchasing and consumption decisions.
The January Tourism Demand Study was conducted by Tourism Linkages Board of the Jamaica Ministry of Tourism It is estimated that the tourism sector has a demand of just under $ 3 million for agricultural products. Significant market vacancies have been created by this loss of demand, resulting in a surplus of thousands of tons of products.
Among the homeless food items are melons, honey dew, watermelons, pineapples and tomatoes (cocktails and salads) as well as high-quality sweet potatoes, pumpkins, eggplants and bananas, originally intended for the hospitality and tourism industry.
Before COVID-19, farms like The Treasure Beach Hydroponic Farmer Group in St. Elizabeth has invested less than $ 75,000 in their tomato harvest, which includes specialty cocktail tomatoes, 95 percent of which is for local hotels.
“We expect to harvest 20,000 pounds of melons over the next few months,” Green Minister said. “We must protect the investment.”
Some estimate the project that Jamaican farmers will experience an annual hit of $ 1.68 million, given the loss of the market (tourism, attractions and declines in local restaurants) but according to estimates reported in the Tourism Demand Study, these numbers could be significantly higher.
As part of the Say Ya For Fresh Campaign, the Ministry of Agriculture directly buys surpluses from farmers and resells and redistributes them. The private sector has played a major role in helping to store excess product. The short shelf life of agricultural supplies has made rapid redistribution mandatory. In many cases, ministries have allocated products for feeding programs, children’s homes and prisons.
In countries where consumption patterns are largely determined by import-oriented mindset, public education and cultural change become very important. Consumers have also been introduced to foods such as eggplant and pumpkin that were previously intended for the tourism sector and have not traditionally been part of the typical Jamaican diet. Consumers are actively mobilized through social media to use hashtag #supportourfarmers and #buywithpurpose to support this movement.
Within the private sector, entrepreneurs and agro-processors have innovated, developed new value-added products and expanded existing product lines.
“The primary market has been closed, so we need to move to the secondary market, which includes agro-processors and retail,” explained the Green Minister from a public-private partnership.
This initiative was facilitated by Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) through ALEX (Agri-Linkage Exchange), an online product market that previously functioned as the main facilitator between farmers and the tourism market.
Managed by agro-brokers, this platform has tracked and marketed excess products for agri-processors, traders, supermarkets and other retailers, and has connected more than 400 Jamaican farmers to viable markets.
Agri-processor, Grace Kennedy, has absorbed products, such as red onion and paprika, which are used in ‘mashed leeks’ and ‘mashed pepper’.
Trade Winds Citrus Limited, which produces Tru-Juice brand juice, absorbs excess fruit and vegetables in the manufacture of new products. In early April, the agri-processor bought 5,000 pounds of tomatoes from farmers in St. Elizabeth for the production of a new line of drinks, which includes tomato-pineapple juice. Pineapple uptake is very important, after recording an excess of 2.4 million pounds during April.
That Jamaica Agro Investment Company has organized a farmer’s market drive-thru, selling 20 and 25 pounds of bags filled to the brim with local products such as Irish potatoes, melons, tomatoes, melons, leeks and zucchinis which would normally not enter the Jamaican shopping basket, for between $ 7 and $ 11
Trade opportunities, especially within the CARICOM Caribbean region are also being explored.
Jamaica Promotions Corporation or JAMPRO, a government agency promoting local business opportunities in exports has recognized the long-term opportunities of the Say Yes To Fresh campaign, from the perspective of import substitution, the development of new supply chains and the permanent expansion of Jamaica’s agricultural sector, which will also allow increased access to agricultural finance and technology .
“JAMPRO takes a proactive approach in building this new supply chain in Jamaica. Globally, there is always demand for Jamaican products, both from the Jamaican Diaspora and among general consumers. Anticipated expansion for this new supply chain and increased access to finance will revolutionize the agricultural industry and will be a key driver towards Jamaica’s COVID-19 recovery post, “said JAMPRO President Diane Edwards.
“In every difficulty there is a greater benefit seed. Our mission is to find and sow it,” said Audley Shaw, Minister of Industry, Trade, Agriculture and Fisheries.
“Say Yes to Fresh we are one of our preeminent. As a region we can win from the jaws of defeat by buying and eating locally produced food, goods and services.”