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Manchester farmer sets sight on value-added products

Thursday, March 27, 2014    

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FROM banana to yellow yam to sweet potato, turmeric and ginger — there is never an idle moment for 69-year-old farmer Easton Bennett.

Not only is Bennett committed to tilling the soil, he also has a vision of creating and marketing various value-added products from his produce.

So, when he is not tilling the soil, this avid farmer is experimenting with producing valued-added products such as yam flour, arrowroot flour, ginger powder, cassava flour and bammy.

Already he has a dry house where he uses solar energy to dry some of his produce after which he mills them. Bennett hopes to eventually get his products out to retail suppliers and, with assistance from the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, has been designing labels and appropriate packaging.

Bennett, who has been a farmer for over 40 years, produces some 10,000 pounds of yellow yam for the export market each year. In addition, he also produces sweet potato, pumpkin, turmeric and arrowroot, to name a few.

And he is preparing himself to adopt the best practices.

Bennett is one of the over 5,000 farmers who have so far been sensitised and trained in pesticide management and record-keeping through the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries' Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA) project, which started in October 2011.

Under the project, 200 farmers have also been trained in good agricultural practices. Prototypes for on-farm sanitation, a packaging shed and storage facilities have been developed and grant assistance valued at $30m is being provided to farmers and exporters to assist them to upgrade infrastructure at their facilities. The ministry also provides capacity building and financial assistance to farmers and exporters to meet the Food Safety Modernisation Act requirements.

Located in the hills of Cobbla, Manchester, Bennett started farming with his parents when he was 11 years old and since then there has been no turning back.

"I start on my own, bought my first piece of land when I was 15 and got married when I was 19," Bennett proudly stated as he chronicled his years in farming.

From as early as 5:00 am, Bennett can be found toiling on his six-acre farm. A typical day will see him planting yam, placing yam sticks where they are needed and feeding his pigs. Reluctantly, he quits at 5:30 pm.

Bennett's passion for farming is unstoppable. Prior to exporting yam, he used to process banana and sell to GraceKennedy for packaging and distribution; however, this was discontinued when his crop was wiped out by a hurricane. He also used to supply Bellevue Hospital with produce but due to an injury to his hip he is no longer able to drive to Kingston to deliver his produce.

None of these setbacks have dampened his spirit as his vision is to improve his dry house, set up a processing plant and provide employment for young graduates who share his passion for agriculture.

"I need more equipment. I can make a lot of jobs for the young people and the country in general needs jobs," he stated passionately.

One of Bennett's dreams is to see the fibre of arrowroot, known for its medical properties, being used by health officials to develop medication for broken hands and to heal wounds.

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