GK still big on small farmers
Small farmers have been the mainstay of Grace Agro Processors' (GAP) raw material supply chain since it started operations, but as the company moves to ramp up production levels in order to meet increased demand from export markets, farmers with bigger operations are being drafted to meet the throughput demand for the 10,000 square-foot capacity processing facility.
"We are not leaving out our small farmers," GAP General Manager Taji Alleyne insisted. "We are keeping them on board, but we have to cultivate and promote larger farmers. When we started out, the average farm was three quarters of an acre. Now we have farmers with 25 acres, 15 acres, 30 acres."
In fact, the company has been working with small farmers to help them get up to speed on good agricultural practices, including accurate and consistent recordkeeping, which is essential to establishing traceability.
"Before, our farmers exercised the traditional way of crop production passed down from generation to generation, but there is technology that exists now in terms of the chemical inputs you use and so on, and irrigation and fertigation - best practices that can significantly increase your yields and reduce labour costs," Alleyne said. However, some farmers have been constrained from moving forward because of cash-flow problems and, again, Grace has come with a mutually beneficial solution.
Said Alleyne: "What we have found is that, traditionally, Jamaican farmers try to price in their profits; everywhere else in the world they use yield to make the profit, so what we've been trying to do is to encourage the farmers to change the culture of just raising prices once your expenses go up; you want to raise your price without maximising the yield."
The general manager explained: "A farmer might say 'Yes, boss. I really want to use this fertiliser or pesticides, but mi neva have nuh money this week, and the next one cheaper'. So to remove that excuse, we give them all the inputs, pesticides and other chemicals upfront and when the crop comes in, we take it out of their payment."
In its effort to ensure that farmers follow the correct procedures for achieving full traceability, GAP has instituted a system to which they must adhere, according to Alleyne.
"On receipt of their products, our farmers have to fill out a form to indicate what products they have used, and then our receival person knows the period that the chemical is active and will know whether the receival can be made or not. In addition, we give them books that they have to keep a log, and then our technical field agent goes out and does spot checks, where he will carry a receival sheet and match against the log that they have, just to make sure that everything is in order."
On the question of the relationship with the farmers who are grouped into two categories - those who provide the wide range of vegetables (cabbage, carrots, callaloo, bell peppers, purple cabbage, pak choi, lettuce, cucumbers, and onions) and hot pepper farmers - the general manager was quick in answering.
"I would like to think that they view us favourably. There are not many places in Jamaica where the farmer knows that he can just lock his eye and deliver any volume of produce every week and know that within seven days time, a cheque is gonna be signed or the money is gonna be in his account," he declared. "With us, the farmer's ability to earn is determined by his or her ability to produce."