Fri | Jan 18, 2019

Agriculture forum urges shift in investment from paper to soil

Published:Wednesday | March 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM
JAMPRO manager for sales and promotions, Marlene Porter.
JAMPRO says mangoes are in heavy demand, among other tropical fruit, opening up opportunities for agriculture investors.
Veggie juices on display. Agriculture officials say the health food craze is ffeding demand for tropical crops, which in turn is opening up new opportunities for Jamaican producers.

Jampro's sales and promotions manager Marlene Porter is pointing Jamaica producers towards opportunities in the export market for tropical fruits, including papaya, pumpkin, mangoes and avocado, saying demand is outpacing supply on the global market.

Her agency, which handles investment promotions on behalf of the Jamaican government, also kicked off a campaign Tuesday to direct investments towards agriculture.

Mexico is a major provider of tropical fruits in the region, but Porter urged producers to "step up and take their place".

At the same time, Courtney Cole, a chief technical director in the Ministry of Commerce, Agriculture & Fisheries (MICAF), urged a redirection of investments towards production, while noting that market opportunities coincided with increasing incomes and a concurrent demand for health foods.

Speaking at Jampro's Agricultural Investment Forum, Cole said Jamaican investors should consider shifting their money from "paper destinations to agriculture."

Porter said some tropical fruit were outpacing other internationally traded goods, and that mangoes in particular were in heavy demand. One local constraint, she said, was the effect of the fruit fly on crops, but also noted that this could be addressed with hot water treatment and other technologies.

She said four fruits mangoes, avocados, papaya and pumpkin had entered mainstream markets and were no longer considered niche products. Avocado is now seen as a super food, while interest in yam and ackee was also on the rise, she added.

An important requirement for farmers and investors, Porter noted, was meeting the quality requirement for fruits and foods information on which could be sourced at Jampro and the Ministry of Agriculture.

Sylburn Thomas, CEO of Agro-Investment Corporation, which operates a number of agro park farms, said the agency has thousands of acres of land available for investors. The agro park programme also offers technical and marketing support, while investors benefit from shared costs such as security and irrigation.

Thomas also announced that a programme was being developed for the sharing of insurance costs among investing farmers.

Agriculture can be a risky investment, but Cole said losses in agriculture ventures could be set-off against profit in other fields by investors, if they were registered farmers.

Jampro president Diane Edwards also highlighted the sector's economic potential, saying agriculture was one of the more reliable predictors of improvements in gross domestic product.

"We saw that happen three quarters ago when agriculture grew 28 per cent," Edwards told the forum, while noting that the challenge for the Jamaican Government was to bring about a change in the mindset of Jamaicans from seeing agriculture ventures as subsistence-type activity to seeing them as structured businesses.

Agriculture contributes about seven per cent of GDP, a figure which rises to 12 per cent when agro-business activity is added, she said.

She added that Jamaica's own tourism sector, which consumes $20 billion worth of food, is an opportunity that farmers and producers should be exploiting more.