Bright future for cassava
The prospects for a cassava industry in Jamaica appear bright, and the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), which represents a large contingent of the island's farmers, is moving to ensure that its members are prepared to reap the benefits.
JAS President Norman Grant said the move by Red Stripe, the island's premier beer maker under the same brand, to spearhead the development of a cassava industry to produce starch for substitution of malt in the beer-making process, represents a bold move that could generate substantial benefits for farmers.
"What that tells us is that we can go out and engage a lot of farmers to go out and plant to a market," Grant said at a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Wednesday at the newspaper's Kingston office. "So what you are going to find is that more farmers can plant cassava that goes into a market, and there is still cassava for your bammy ... ," he added.
With vast acreages of arable lands not in production, the JAS president said cassava would be an ideal crop to increase productivity on those lands. "Just under 40 per cent of the lands available for planting is in production," Grant told the forum.
Red Stripe's head of local Raw Material Supply Chain, Dr Damian Graham, said the company would need 48,000 metric tons of cassava annually for conversion to starch in the making of beer. However, the tuber is produced only on a small scale currently, yielding between 18,000 and 21,000 metric tons annually.
"If we were to take what is currently being produced, we would take all of it and still would be short. That is less than half of what we actually need," Graham pointed out, adding, "that is why our approach is to build a parallel supply chain that is independent of what currently exists for (making) bammy."
Given that the approach to the growing of cassava is currently unorganised and unscientific, the Red Stripe executive stressed that "we want to have a predictable supply of the cassava".
He explained further: "It is not just that you do this crop for us once. When we get to the point of having a third-party provision of the cassava, we would need three- to five-year contracts. That would mean the farmer will have to take on a production system. He or she will have to ensure that the crop rotation is there. Every three to four months after the crop, they would have to plant whatever is needed to re-enrich the soil to give it that break, interrupt the pest cycle, redo their soil tests, and then go again."
Grant said his organisation would be engaging farmers to ensure that they are properly equipped and prepared to deliver the crop in an organised way.
"We will have to sit down with Red Stripe, in addition to creating those parallel supply lines to say, 'Let's give you blocks of farmers who can grow the crop for you'," he said.
With a guaranteed market in place, the JAS president said the People's Cooperative Bank would be approached to provide financing to the cassava growers.
"We can use that contract as collateral ... and we can go to the PC Bank, and we can say, 'Lend us the nine per cent money because Red Stripe will take it from us'," he said.