Sun | Sep 22, 2019

Mavis Bank leading coffee quality project

Published:Friday | May 3, 2019 | 12:26 AMAvia Collinder - Business Reporter
Norman Grant, CEO of Mavis Bank Coffee Factory Limited.

Mavis Bank Coffee Factory is anchoring a $43-million donor-funded project to upgrade farming practices in the coffee belt, spanning the parishes of St Andrew and St Thomas.

The coffee company owned by investor Michael Lee-Chin will itself contribute $13 million of the funding, with the rest jointly financed by the Government of Jamaica and the World Bank, through the Jamaica Business Fund, JBF, which is managed by the state-run Development Bank of Jamaica.

The JBF’s remit is to work with firms on supply-chain improvement projects, under the Foundation for Competitiveness and Growth Project. It’s been around since 2016.

Mavis Bank CEO Norman Grant says the project aims to train farmers on 51-100 satellite farms in good coffee culture practices.

Its goal is a 150 per cent increase in coffee bean production and an upgrade in bean quality, he said.

Mavis Bank will also produce a coffee best practice instruction manual as a guide to the farmers.

Fourteen of the farms are targeted for fertigation upgrades, but all farmers will receive training and that component is already under way. Fertigation is the application of soluble fertiliser to plants.

“Based on the success of this programme, we are hoping that the Development Bank of Jamaica or the PC Bank will make funds available at low interest rate, of not more than five per cent on a long-term basis, to construct irrigation systems on farms to enhance productivity and production,” he said.

The project aims to improve coffee yields threefold, from an average of 30 boxes per acre to about 100 boxes.

The targeted farms are in the Blue Mountain bean-producing region in St Andrew and St Thomas.

Small to medium coffee farms or farmers will be assisted with plant nutrition, pest management, soil management, shade regulation, weed control and plant training, drip irrigation, satellite farming, and intercropping with red peas.

The intercropping component has two goals: providing the farmers with an additional means of generating cash flow, and reducing the $1 billion worth of red peas imported by Jamaica annually.

Grant said site visits were done on all farms for inspection and site mapping for fertigation systems; all concrete basements for the fertigation systems have been completed; all the water storage and fertigation tanks were delivered; approximately 41.5 acres of piping was done throughout 14 coffee farms; terracing or individual basins was done on all farms; and 359 bags of granular fertiliser were delivered to the beneficiary farmers.

Still pending are the delivery of granular fertiliser to farmers who could not benefit from the fertigation system, the disbursement and planting of red peas to fix nitrogen in the soil, therefore reducing the need for fertiliser; additional farm inspections; commissioning of the fertigation system and one in-field training session.

Asked how the project will help with the depressed coffee market, Grant said sales are expected to improve in the medium to long term.

“The Jamaica Coffee Exporters Association just returned from Boston where the reception to the JBM [Jamaica Blue Mountain] coffee was excellent. We believe that the market will recover over time,” he said.

“Coffee is a long-term crop. We are encouraging coffee farmers not to abandon their coffee farms as the market will regain strength, even though this is not going to be overnight,” he said.

avia.collinder@gleanerjm.com