Sat | Dec 4, 2021

Coffee farmers get option

Published:Saturday | March 9, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Struggling Jamaican coffee farmers are learning how they can diversify their production and explore new avenues to finance their ventures.

Carolyn McDonald-Riley, director, Tourism Linkages Network, told coffee farmers that its six-month-old Agri-linkages Exchange (ALEX) platform is gaining traction among farmers seeking markets. To grow their output, JN Bank offered financing options to reposition their business.

“If you can supply limes, strawberries and berries of any sort, we need to get your number,” McDonald-Riley told the farmers. “Importing limes is not a credible option, and we have also built additional capacity with berry farmers who supply the tourism industry.”

The ALEX platform was set up to facilitate the purchase and exchange of goods between farmers and buyers within the hotel industry to increase the use of local produce. Along with the Ministry of Tourism, ALEX is also supported by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority.

“So far, we have 400 farmers on the system; however, we need far more,” McDonald-Riley said. “It should be all crops that are registered on the system.”

On the buying side, the system includes hotel purchasing managers, restaurants, agricultural wholesalers and exporters, who can learn directly from the farmers about their crops and submit orders,” she said.

“We ensure that all of our farmers are connected to the system,” McDonald-Riley declared. “What is important is that what we get from you is consistent in supply, meets quality standards, and we know where it is coming from.”

She was addressing the Blue Mountain Coffee Festival Trade Day session at the University of Technology, St Andrew, on Saturday, March 1. More than 30 coffee farmers attended, along with other stakeholders in the struggling industry.

“What coffee farmers are earning today clearly does not contribute to the sustainability of coffee growing,” stated Nickeisha Cleary, retail sales manager, JN Bank. “We need to develop innovative strategies to create new markets and urgently address the production issues that are under our control.”

During the past year, coffee prices declined by as much as 70 per cent, from a high of $12,000 per box to a low of $3,500, according to industry reports. Exports moved from 700,000 boxes over the past 25 years to about 250,000 boxes.

“Any venture into new areas will not come without a cost. You will need funds for research and development; to acquire knowledge, expertise and capital,” she stated, adding that “these initiatives include business financing for expansion into new areas and the exploration of new markets.”

Along with loan solutions and insurance available through other member companies in the JN Group, Cleary singled out the climate change loan offered by JN Bank’s sister company, JN Small Business Loans, which farmers can use to implement new techniques and systems to mitigate the impact of climate change, available at a rate of four per cent per annum on the reducing balance.

“We welcome the opportunity for further dialogue about how we can assist players in this industry to expand and build capacity,” Cleary stated.

McLaene Nicholson, a coffee farmer from Woodford in St Andrew, said she had also branched out into the production of bananas, plantain, and pears.

“I want to develop my farm,” Nicholson declared at the forum. “I am interested in finding out more about ALEX.”