Big agri boost

Big agri boost

Azan targets 40% cut in food import bill with new Bernard Lodge project


Friday, September 20, 2019

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Jamaica could save billions of dollars spent to import food when the planned Lakes Pen Agri Ventures is fully operational.

The country now spends an average of US$850 million to US$1 billion each year to import food but Gassan Azan, the point man for the 400-acre development planned for the Lakes Pen area of Bernard Lodge lands in St Catherine, says this could be reduced significantly when the high-tech agricultural park is up and running.

“When you look at the numbers, how they stack up, this [development] will produce 17,000 tons each year and we import 40,000 tons; you can see that this is an approximate 40 per cent reduction in the import bill if we hit our target,” Azan declared during the official launch of the project yesterday.

“If we even miss our target by half it is still a substantial reduction in the import bill which gives you that level of, not only food security, but also financial security in your reserves. So there is significant benefit to this project from that standpoint without even adding the job scenario into that. That is just raw production numbers,” added Azan.

According to Azan, he has long felt that Jamaica should take steps to move away from importing vegetables and grow as much as the country needs.

“We want all stakeholders to come on board and be a part of this process which will change the landscape in agricultural production and distribution in Jamaica,” declared Azan.

The state-of-the-art agricultural development will cost $11 billion to be established over two phases and will directly employ 1,000 people in phase one and an additional 350 in phase two.

Project manager, former state minister in the Ministry of Agriculture Victor Cummings declared that the farm would revolutionise agriculture in Jamaica.

“We are going to transform agriculture, something that has been talked about so many times but hasn't been done,” said Cummings.

“We have a vision of how we are going to revolutionise agriculture in Jamaica, how we are going to transform it, and looking at value-added for export utilising the land resources that are there; and an innovative approach is what we are taking,” added Cummings.

The project has received the endorsement of the Jamaica Agricultural Society with its president Lenworth Fulton arguing that this is the type of project needed to move the sector to the next level.

“Our people here have tried very hard. Our small farmers have produced an average of 650,000 metric tons of food yearly …but we need to move a notch up,” said Fulton.

“I am very happy for the project, the agricultural society is very happy, the farmers will have a market to feed into so I can go out and chirp the happy word: 'Produce, there is a market coming',” added Fulton as he noted that the project will establish a collection point or a mother farm-type operation by October where small farmers in the area will be contracted to supply produce.

The small farmers will also be given advice and support to help them improve and increase their production levels.

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