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Shaw welcomes agri storage expansion

Published:Tuesday | November 9, 2021 | 12:09 AMRuddy Mathison/Gleaner Writer
Audley Shaw
Audley Shaw

An expansion of additional storage capacity at AstroJam Limited, a local agricultural cultivation and distribution company based in Bluntas, St Elizabeth, has been cited as paramount to Jamaica’s food security and import substitution.

Acting Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Audley Shaw, speaking at a ceremony to commemorate the upgraded facility, said the COVID-19 pandemic has made it very clear that food security and import substitution, along with the ability to innovate, are of paramount importance to the future sustainability of life in Jamaica.

“So when all the other sectors can take a passive approach, agriculture has to pivot and move quickly with the new and current demands,” Shaw stated.

In an effort to dispel criticisms that Jamaica has given up sugar as a major export, Shaw declared that other crops that are in demand in international markets can grow where sugar cane once grew.

“Everywhere sugar cane grows, mango orchards can grow there; everywhere sugar cane grow, ackee orchards can grow there,” he said, pointing to a recent report in the National Geographic magazine ranking Jamaica’s ackee and salt fish as the second best dish in the world.

The minister said the disruption in the tourism sector over the last year and a half has resulted in large quantities of perishable agricultural produce been slowed down in the supply chain, leaving many farmers with a significant amount of excess produce and without a market, emphasising the need for adequate storage facility.

According to him, AstroJam has maintained the integrity of Jamaica’s agricultural produce with its consistent supply to hotels and supermarkets across the island, providing access to the country’s food chain.

Some 50 farmers from the community are direct beneficaries from the company’s upgraded storage facilities, in that they will be able to supply more produce to the company, which now has the capacity to stockpile thousands of pounds more onion, honey dew, watermelon, Irish potatoes, pumpkins, and other produce. AstroJam is also now able to process more peanuts with the new packaging equipment acquired recently from China.

Director of the company, Austria-born naturalised Jamaican Martin Zsifkovics, who came to Jamaica as a hotel worker and experienced first-hand the inconsistency in the agricultural supply chain to the hotels while working in that sector, decided to branch out and establish his own farm and distribution company on 150 acres of land in the community, with the aim of improving the food supply chain to the sector.

“We opened the hotel and was waiting for the farmers to supply Sandals Whitehouse, where we had six or seven hundred guests, and we were calling them at 8 o’clock for delivery and they told us they soon come,” said Zsifkovics, who now supplies 19 hotel with agricultural produce.

According to him, the farmer didn’t arrive until 10 oclock with half of what they had ordered, a situation that prompted him to start AudtroJam 14 years ago.

But while storage was highlighted as one of the main hinderances to a consistent food supply chain, Opposition Leader Mark Golding, also speaking at the ceremony, said he fully buys into the concept that agriculture is the mainstay of the Jamaican economy, and called for greater investment in the sector.

“We need real investment in agriculture, the kind that we have in the financial sector in the past, the kind that we had in manufacturing and tourism; agriculture needs this kind of investment,” he stressed.

Member of Parliament for South Western St Elizabeth and former Minister of Agriculture Floyd Green said AustroJam symbolises what it means to combine action with impact. He highlights the storage as a critical component, and calls for more investments in storage capacities.

Green announced a goat-rearing project which is expected to come on stream soon at the Sydney Pagon Agricultural, situated at Braes River in the parish.