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Jamaica ripe for sweet potato deal

Published:Monday | August 18, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

The agriculture ministry has set its sights on tapping into a US$50-million market for sweet potatoes in the United Kingdom.

Dr Derrick Deslandes, marketing consultant in the agriculture ministry, told The Gleaner last week that having done an assessment of the global market for potatoes, it was determined that the UK market, which could also serve as a gateway to a much bigger European market, would be a point of entry.

"The UK is the largest importer of sweet potatoes in the world. What we realise is that the reason for this was that the Americans basically started the market there for sweet potatoes. They have done a lot of marketing work and convinced the British public that it's a very good product - it is now in baby foods, purées, is eaten mashed, baked, fried, so a lot of value added is taking place," Deslandes said.

Boost agri production

The marketing consultant made the comments following a tour of Jeff Stephenson's demonstration plot, which is located in the Duffus-New Forest Agro Park along the St Elizabeth- Manchester border. The Govern-ment is using the agro parks as a vehicle to boost agricultural production on the island.

Deslandes said that having made contact with potential buyers, they have indicated that "we have to grow the American varieties, because that's what they are buying".

For this reason, it is the Beauregard variety, which is very popular in the United Kingdom, that farmers such as Stephenson are now experimenting with and using best practices in order to lift production levels well beyond the 10,000lb-per-acre average locally. The international standard is 30,000lb per acre.

"Even though we have been selling to the UK, we are on the fringe, so the mainstream does not know about our potatoes, they know the American ones. So the plan is really to start with the American ones and then gradually move into the local ones, but we can't just go and do it right off. We have to build a relationship with the supermarket chains and then gradually introduce our sweet potato as an option to them, as well," Deslandes explained.

The ministry is currently engaged in discussions with The Fresh Produce Consortium, an association of more than 700 businesses, including retailers, distributors, importers, wholesalers, processors, packers and food-service companies, for the purchase of the potatoes as well as locally produced papayas and melons, among other crops.