Business

2,500 jobs in 5 years

Red Stripe expects huge yields from cassava project

BY JULIAN RICHARDSON Assistant Business Co-ordinator richardsonj@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, January 08, 2014    

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RED Stripe expects to create 2,500 jobs in five years as part of a project to replace imported inputs with locally grown cassava in the production of beer.

The beer maker yesterday signed a lease agreement with the Agro Investment Corporation of Jamaica for 36 acres of land at Bernard Lodge that will be used as a pilot farm for cassava cultivation.

Red Stripe managing director Cedric Blair said that the pilot farm is expected to demonstrate the company's ability to grow high yielding cassava of between 40 and 60 tonnes per hectare compared to the 10 to 15 tonnes per hectare that he said is typically produced in the Jamaican market today.

"At this level of production, we are absolutely confident that we will be in a position to replace approximately 20 per cent of our imported brewing raw materials by 2016," Blair said at the lease signing ceremony held at Red Stripe's headquarters on Spanish Town Road in Kingston.

The initiative, branded Project Grow by the brewer, has been in the works for the past two years as part of a broader plan to drive efficiencies across the company. It is a move replicating parent company Diageo's investments in supply chain rationalisation for its breweries in Africa as the beer market tightened, forcing the exploration of food crops such as cassava, sorghum and maize as cheap and reliable sources of raw materials compared to imported barley.

"This project goes way beyond just a pilot; it will extend to small farmers, medium- and large-scale agroprocessors to develop a sustainable cassava supply chain for our business," Blair said, noting that it should create 2,500 jobs directly and nearly 4,000 jobs indirectly.

According to Red Stripe chairman Richard Byles, the company decided to use a "modest" 36 acres of land for its pilot programme in order to focus on quality and efficiency of production.

"With good agricultural practices, the correct varieties and proper technology, we can triple the average output per acre of cassava that we currently achieve in Jamaica. When that is proven, we will quickly expand the project to 300 acres with the possibility to get up to 2,500 acres," Byles said.

Red Stripe expects to produce cassava beer by September.

It is not the first time that Red Stripe is sourcing local raw materials for the production of beer. According to Blair, the company has used local corn and sugar cane in the past.

Red Stripe had considered sorghum to brew beer, but the crop is not reliable enough in Jamaica, according to Shane Healy, the company's head of supply.

"A number of years ago we considered sorghum and we spent a lot of time over the last two years with Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute and the Scientific Research Council and various other bodies looking at what would be best," Healy said. "One of the problems with the seasonalities, particularly with hurricane season, is that sorghum just isn't able to stand up to what we need."

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