Growth Forum: Lucea farmers ready for ganja, bemoan information deficit
Even as Jamaicans awaits the formation of the Cannabis Licensing Authority, one of the key agencies to facilitate the establishment of a legal ganja industry, there are concerns that local small farmers could be ambushed and cut off from the potentially lucrative financial returns from this emerging industry.
Despite assurances to the contrary from Phillip Paulwell, minister of science, technology, energy and mining, some local investors point to the delay in establishing the necessary regulatory agency as a major stumbling block. They argue that local investors are further hobbled by a lack of information to properly inform their business proposals.
"Without a licence, one will not be able to farm [ganja] and as business people, it's been very difficult along the way to get information [as to] how this industry is going to be structured. We are still in limbo and now that the law has been passed and gazetted, we've been told not until September or October," Steven Rivierie, president of the Hanover Hemp and Ganja Farmers Co-operative, lamented at The Gleaner's Job Creation, Investment and Growth Forum in Lucea, Hanover.
"How can we function as business people when we don't even know the parameters of the industry, the playing field on which we are competing?" asked Rivierie.
ROLE FORBOTH SMALL, LARGE FARMERS
Paulwell, who has the ministerial authority to grant permission for the cultivation of ganja for research purposes, has sought to allay fears that cash-rich individuals and organisations could co-opt the ganja trade, leaving small farmers out in the cold. In his contribution to the 2015-16 Sectoral Debate, the minister insisted that the market is so lucrative that there is a role for both large and small farmers.
"We have to ensure that unlike other things, where we have lost opportunity, we collaborate and share information rather than compete internally," said Paulwell.
However, for Rivierie, it is outside sources that pose the greatest threat to local businesses, especially to small farmers, who are at serious risk of being brushed aside by the strength of the almighty investment dollars.
"Definitely," was the prompt response from Rivierie, when pressed as to whether there was a real threat from big money. He explained that already individuals and companies are jockeying for prime position to ensure that they grab a major slice of the ganja industry pie.
"Since this industry was first discussed in Jamaica, [several] overseas persons have either already set up businesses or are in the process of doing so ... and I know of at least one [multinational] ... ," he disclosed.
For this reason, the Hanover Hemp and Ganja Farmers Co-operative has been doing some groundwork in trying to get young people informed and involved in the industry.
"But it's difficult for us to operate at this time because we don't have all the information. How much will a licence cost? What are the requirements for getting a licence? The ganja licensing authority will be similar to the Firearm Licensing Authority so the requirements are going to be very specific and detailed," the Hanover businessman disclosed.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the authority will be responsible for issuing licences, permits and authorisations for the handling of hemp and ganja and for monitoring and otherwise regulating persons who have been issued licences, permits and authorisations. It is specifically mandated to ensure that regulations do not contravene Jamaica's international obligations.
Meanwhile, Rivierie also used the occasion to raise the question of whether credit unions, banks and other lending institutions would be prepared to offer easy access loans or create special facility financing packages to accommodate small farmers and other would-be-investors with high credit rating but low on finances and collateral.
"In Jamaica, persons who don't have collateral - if you don't have a land title, if you don't have a vehicle title or some tangible assets - it's very difficult for them to get a loan," noted Rivierie. "Most of our farmers are small farmers who cannot meet the requirements of the various banks and lending institutions so that their business can move forward with an injection of capital. That is the major stumbling block!"