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Youth sees farming future through Red Stripe cassava project

Published:Monday | December 8, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Dr Damian 'Damo' Graham
Fujio Murdock takes part in a Gleaner Editors' Forum on a multi-million dollar Project Grow cassava initiative, held at the newspaper's North Street, Kingston offices last week. Project Grow is being undertaken by Red Stripe's parent company, Diageo. - Rudolph Brown/Photographer
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Jodi-Ann Gilpin, Gleaner Writer

If you have travelled on a coaster bus that operates on the Portmore, St Catherine to Half-Way-Tree, St Andrew route, you might have had an encounter with 24-year-old Fujio Murdock.

Murdock, who took part in a Gleaner Editors' Forum at the newspaper's North Street, Kingston offices last week, said he had been a bus conductor for the past four years but had his life totally transformed after being introduced to the Red Stripe Cassava Cultivating Project.

The company has established a cluster of cassava farms across the island, in keeping with its overall aim to significantly cut production costs and improve supply security by using more locally produced raw material during the brewing process.

Murdock explained that, after graduating from the Camperdown High School in Kingston in 2007, it was very challenging to find employment.

"I was very confused when I left high school. I wanted to work for a while but it was very difficult. A member of my family operated a bus, so I assisted him, but it was never easy," he said.

Loving every minute

"Up to when I was introduced to the programme, I was unemployed, because at one point di bus ting was not bearing fruit; but since September, I have become actively involved with Red Stripe and learning so much about farming, and I am loving every minute of it."

The youngster said that, having learned courses such as insect-pest management, food safety, along with the basics of pruning shrubs and trees, he is empowered to take the next step into starting his own business.

"I was introduced to cassava when I stayed with my grandmother in St Mary, but I didn't have in-depth knowledge about it, so I am really thankful for this course because there are huge benefits to be gained, and I am seeing a bright future ahead of me," he said.

He also noted that he has been seeing a change among his peers in their attitude towards the agricultural sector.

"The greatest, biggest thing for me is that this gives me the opportunity to teach, because young people are fascinated when I tell them about cassava and the benefits that can be gained. People even come to my doorstep asking me to get them into the programme," he said.

Dr Damian 'Damo' Graham, head of the Local Raw Material Supply Chain at Red Stripe, said young people would be a major part of the project, adding that the company's five-year projection is to train 2,500 youths.

"There is a renewed sense of curiosity that exists among youths when it comes to farming. Young people want hope, and once they see an avenue which will present great opportunities, they will latch on to it," he said.

Inclusive effort

"We had over 300 applicants, and we could only take 30 in the first round, so we now have to be finding ways to impact persons who might not be able to get in formally, in a bid to ensure that no one is left out," Graham explained.

Murdock used the opportunity to encourage other young people to stay positive, adding that there are huge benefits to be gained from agriculture.

"Something that I learnt while I was a student is that a man should always have something to do, something to love, and should know something. This has kept me grounded and focused, and I can happily say that I have been reaping the rewards," he said.

"I can see myself five years from now owning up to 300 acres of land, and other youths can become a part of this as well, but one has to have an open mind, because it's not just getting your hands dirty," he continued.

"No more bus work for me," Murdock declared.

jodi-ann.gilpin@gleanerjm.com