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Agriculture can thrive with scientific approach, proper management skills - Byles

Published:Friday | March 6, 2015 | 12:16 AM

Richard Byles, President and  CEO of Sagicor Group Jamaica Limited, says the application of scientific  production and management principles to agricultural production in Jamaica could lead to more import substitution, citing work done at the Red Stripe  cassava farm in St. Catherine.
Byles is also chairman of Red Stripe Jamaica, a beer-brewing subsidiary of drinks giant Diageo Plc. The cassava farm was set up by the brewery for raw materials to replace some imported inputs with cassava. So far, the farm had improved cassava yields by 400 per cent, he told the forum.
The business executive is also challenging local companies to introduce management talent to the agricultural sector.
“If we should really on an economic basis replace the importation of more and more products. When we grow it in a scientific way, we get four times the yield of the average farmer in Jamaica. It’s not 10 per cent more, it’s not 50 per cent more or 100 per cent more; it’s over 400 per cent more,” Byles commented while speaking at Sagicor’s annual pension seminar in Kingston on Tuesday where the investment climate was discussed.
“We need to get in order to be able to economically replace the crops with imports.”
He acknowledged that irrigation systems were needed to improve yields but insisted that agriculture has “great potential” to replace imports if approached in a businesslike and scientific manner, and is backed by the right resources.
Red Stripe reported investing $150 million in local cassava production on 403 acres of land at Bernard Lodge. The farm is part of a US$10 million project that the company hopes to complete in about five years.
Byles said that Red Stripe will use its farm to demonstrate how to produce crops in a highly productive manner.
“I want to throw a challenge to the big corporations, especially those which have any association with food, such as the GraceKennedys, to bring their management skills and some of their financial resources to bear on the agricultural sector to be able to get those kind of yields and in so doing to demonstrate to other farmers how it can best be done,” said Byles.
In November, Minister of Agriculture Derrick Kellier said the Government would be moving to adopt the technology used by Red Stripe in its large-scale cassava production to develop a national cassava industry.
Kellier said then that Jamaica will need approximately 5,000 acres of cassava across the island to develop by-products such as flour targeted at the baking industry, as well as animal feeds from the leaf of the cassava, and fuel.
Managing Director of Red Stripe, Cedric Blair, said last year  that individuals seeking to enter into contracts with Red Stripe would need high yields to be competitive.
Red Stripe is targeting direct management of 500 acres, but aims to procure supplies from another 2,000 acres manned by small and large farmers.