Mon | Oct 15, 2018

Growth & Jobs | Karana's Hope: Red Stripe's Project Grow rooted in opportunity

Published:Tuesday | September 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Karana Johnson surveys a field of soon to be reaped cassava.
Karana Johnson at work planting cassava sticks. Cassava production has increased islandwide under Red Stripe’s Project Grow which uses starch from the tuber to replace high maltose corn syrup in the production of its brewed products.
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When harvested, the cassava root can be anywhere from five to 15cm, but according to 25-year-old Karana Johnson, the size the tuber belies its impact for creating real opportunity for young people.

Johnson grew up in Spanish Town, St Catherine, with a foster mother after her biological mother passed away when she was an infant. While at Spanish Town High School, her interest in farming was sparked in agriculture classes and reinforced when she helped her grandfather to plant crops in the small plot at home. But, like many children across the island, her schooling came to an abrupt end in grade nine, when she was 15 years old, as money was hard to come by.

"I didn't have much to look forward to. There was nothing to do at home; I was not in school and had no job. During this time, I had my two children Romario and Sirah. I needed to find a better way for them, but I didn't know how," she says.

It wasn't until a family friend told her about Project Grow, Red Stripe's local raw material-sourcing initiative, that Johnson found a sense of purpose. Using locally grown cassava to replace imported high-maltose corn syrup in their brewed products, Red Stripe has created the gateway for farmers to find new opportunities in an underutilised crop. In addition to delivering foreign exchange savings, Project Grow also scores big, as it is in alignment with Jamaica's Vision 2030 goals for the agriculture sector in encouraging young people to participate in the industry. Project Grow is also at the forefront of developing modern and efficient farming systems and improving agricultural marketing structures and loan programmes.

The agriculture workforce for Project Grow is trained in the Desnoes and Geddes Foundation's Learning for Life programme. A quick study, Johnson was able to ace her classes in farming techniques and fertiliser use and irrigation, despite being out of the education system for more than eight years.

 

FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE

 

"I could just hug the person whose idea Project Grow was. This is my first time working because of Red Stripe, and it's an amazing feeling to be able to earn, pay my bills, take care of my two children and be independent," she said. The 600-acre farm in Windsor, St Catherine, where she works, will yield its first harvest of cassava in November and Johnson is excited to see the results of her efforts.

"If you want good then you have to bear the sun. People will claim that women cannot manage this kind of labour, but anyone who wants something for themselves and their family will do whatever it takes. Being financially independent in a community like mine, with limited job opportunities, is worth being in the field," says Johnson.

Thirty young people completed the Learning for Life agriculture programme earlier this year, and now almost all of them are employed on Project Grow farms. With 120 young persons hired to date, the programme now boasts an employment rate of 97 per cent. "Karana's story is an affirmation that we are doing right with Learning for Life. Aside from showing young people that agriculture offers viable employment options, in the case of our women graduates, it is especially rewarding that we are empowering them to take charge of their lives and create better futures for themselves. We think that's an important win for Jamaica's future," said Dianne Ashton-Smith, director, Desnoes and Geddes Foundation.