GK's Wehby calls for more local, value-added finished goods .

GK's Wehby calls for more local, value-added finished goods .

...Outlines measures from which small farmers could benefit

BY KELLARAY MILES
Business reporter
milesk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

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W ith the recent predicament of excess tonnes of agricultural produce at risk of wasting, more calls are being made for the agro-processing sector to engage, market and develop a wider range of value added finished products using local agricultural inputs.

Don Wehby, group chief executive officer (CEO) of GraceKennedy Limited (GK), in speaking with the Jamaica Observer last week reiterated the need for such a move, adding that this should be targeted primarily towards export markets.

Expressing deep regret at the loss that has plagued many small farmers over the last few weeks since some of the most adverse impacts of the coronavirus pandemic began to manifest, Wehby said that while he never wants to see the occurrence of any such disease, he hopes that valuable lessons will be learnt in developing the agricultural sector going forward.

“We're playing our part in this, having invested over $200 million in 2019 to establish Grace Agro Processors (GAP) Denbigh— our newest factory – geared towards producing and exporting canned and frozen agro-produce,” he said.

Noting that farmers have already started to see results from this venture, Wehby said that the GK Group has also taken additional steps to bring more facilities on stream so as to work with farmers (via mother farm business models) and to meet production demands.

“I'm happy to say that local farmers have already started to see the benefits of GAP Denbigh and are now experiencing higher demand for sweet potato, ackee, hot peppers, escallion, callalloo and sorrel. To help meet this new demand, GK has invested in a 110-acre agro park in Hounslow, St Elizabeth, and we have already partnered with five local farmers to put 50 acres of these crops under plantation. We're proud of what we are doing to assist the local farming community,” the CEO shared with the Business Observer.

President of Jamaica Promotions Corporation (Jampro) Diane Edwards recently expressed that the agricultural sector will have a key role to play in the country's recovery post-COVID-19.

Noting an increasing demand for local products and the availability of overseas markets she, like Wehby who is also the chairman of Jampro, believes that more local produce should be aimed for export markets.

“We have supply lines, we have markets that have already been identified and, in fact, in most of the overseas markets we have seen that we are not producing enough to fulfill them.

“I think in the short term there are some extraordinary measures that we are going to have to take. I think we can see agribusiness return to a pretty robust and even expanded level of production,” she said.

MORE MEASURES FOR ASSISTANCE

Wehby, who last week told this newspaper that his company was seeking to help farmers with offloading the excess produce, also put forward some other measures which he believes will be very useful in helping farmers to continue fulfilling their mandate of feeding the nation and ensuring food security, especially amidst the ongoing spread of the novel coronavirus disease. He said these measures will help the sector with mitigating impacts as well as stemming recurrences.

Among the measures he cited was that of import substitution so as to gain more support for local production.

“I really believe strongly that the Government could implement a temporary import substitution policy on agricultural produce. Our local farmers need our support on an individual, corporate and national scale,” he said.

Other measures he cited include the setting up of public-private partnerships for marketing depots, where farmers can take their excess goods for auction; a virtual marketplace for farmers to sell produce online; crop insurance policy; and low-cost funding support from financial institutions to support the purchase of seeds/seedlings and other farming inputs.

In relation to the latter, Wehby mentioned that First Global Bank, which is a part of the GK Group, is currently offering programmes to help farmers in this and other ways to build their businesses.

“I would encourage financial institutions to get involved, and to offer financial literacy training for our farmers on how to manage their cash flow,” he also told the Business Observer.

Like Richard Pandohie, president of Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) who last week called on farmers to utilise more technology in their operations, Wehby also recommended the use of such as essential.

“The development of more dehydrating and cold storage facilities would also be necessary, in order to extend the shelf life of fresh produce and reduce the loss to farmers due to spoilage,” he said.


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