Fri | Dec 14, 2018

Ricardo Nuncio | Collaboration gateway to Agriculture 2.0

Published:Sunday | November 18, 2018 | 12:03 AMRicardo Nuncio
Ricardo Nuncio

No longer solely the purview of environmentalists, sustainability is now a firmly established business imperative, and thankfully, too.

While more of us are purposefully engaged in examining the future, not only through the prisms of productivity and profitability but also natural resources and social impacts, there is still much more work to be done.

At Red Stripe, sustainability inspires our approach to sourcing our agricultural raw materials, and in doing so, we satisfy the definition of the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI): “The efficient production of safe, high-quality agricultural products, in a way that protects and improves the natural environment, the social and economic conditions of farmers, their employees and local communities, and safeguards the health and welfare of all farmed species.”

In 2013, Red Stripe moved to source locally more raw material used in the production of our beers and stouts. Dubbed Project Grow, our goal is 40 per cent cassava starch to replace imported high-maltose corn syrup by 2020. The challenge is how to modernise production of what was primarily considered a subsistence crop and connect the capacity of farmers to manufacturing.

This idea of connectivity is articulated by Jamaica’s Vision 2030, which, among other things, is predicated on the “increased backward integration into the local economy”, as that integration is key to creating a vibrant economy. Consider this then Agriculture 2.0.

Establishing this new blueprint requires thinking through the idea of sustainability and collaboration. Even as this economy diversifies away from sugar as the primary agricultural commodity, we believe that the hard-won lessons of Red Stripe’s approach offer the opportunity for other businesses to level up to the principles of collaboration.

LEADERSHIP SUPPORT

We would not have had the successes logged today were it not for the Ministry of Agriculture. The level of leadership support offered by the ministry is precisely what Jamaica needs to create a meaningful nexus between manufacturing and industry.

Not only did the ministry offer leases for the land for cultivation, but its expertise was instrumental in sourcing the cassava varieties that would meet production needs in terms of starch quality and cultivation period. That the ministry is keen to work through partnerships and has a deft understanding of how to balance the reality and the promise of commercial agriculture serves the vision of backward integration at the highest level.
Collaboration also drives a significant aspect of Project Grow - the Learning for Life programme executed by the Desnoes & Geddes Foundation, through which 300 young men and women are trained in cassava cultivation for onward employment on Red Stripe farms, as well as contracted farms.  

Collaboration stands at the core of creating larger and more profitable agricultural ventures. Of course, this does not eliminate small farmers. Rather, there is an opportunity for consolidation. Take, for example, the Bright River Cooperative with more than 30 small farmers, some with as little as one acre, all working together, collaborating, in the most potent sense of the word, to supply Red Stripe. 
In July 2017, Red Stripe signed an agreement with the USAID-funded Jamaica Rural Economy and Ecosystems Adapting to Climate Change II project to help 300 farmers improve their practices and boost commercial cassava production. 
Now more than ever, we must think and act in collaboration to establish a network of success for the Jamaican economy, one in which sustainability moves even further from being a cause to becoming a purpose.

- Ricardo Nuncio is managing director of Red Stripe. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.