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High-tech agri boost

Azan to spend $11b to establish farm on Bernard Lodge lands

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-Large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, September 19, 2019

BUSINESSMAN Gassan Azan is to unveil plans today to invest more than $11 billion to create a state-of-the-art agricultural development on 400 acres in the Lakes Pen area of the Bernard Lodge lands in St Catherine.

In a preview yesterday, Azan told the Jamaica Observer that the deficiencies in the supply of agricultural produce to his MegaMart stores prompted him to start looking at methods to ensure a regular supply line, through direct linkages with farmers.

“When I started looking into it deeper, I realised that I wanted to go further than just linkages with the farmers. So instead of being our own middleman, we decided to actually engage in farming, but farming at a different level — much more high-tech than has ever been done in Jamaica,” said Azan.

He said his team looked at what is being done in the Dominican Republic where high-tech farming is par for the course.

“Then we started talking to people and realising that this thing could actually happen, where we go from supplying ourselves [and] we become wholesale suppliers to the nation, to the hotels, and then the export market,” added Azan.

“We decided that we have to start looking at markets outside [of Jamaica] within six months, because we are going to be producing so much. How we are going to be producing so much is because the technology that we will be using is an average of 10 to one yields compared to open farming.

“It is going to be greenhouse, shade house, hydroponic house, open field, and orchards — so it is going to be a combination of five different types of farming,” declared Azan.

He pointed out that discussions on the project started in 2014 with the previous Administration, while the proposal was submitted to Cabinet in 2016 — long before the controversial Bernard Lodge Development master plan was put on the table.

According to Azan, the plan is to employ 1,000 people in phase one of the project, which will cost $9 billion, with an additional 350 individuals being employed in phase two, which is budgeted at $2.2 billion.

He said the assembly of the greenhouses will start in November, but before that his group will establish a collection point or a mother farm-type operation by October, where small farmers in the area will be contracted to supply produce.

“But it will be more than buying from them, we will be helping them and telling them how to operate along the way,” said Azan, who will provide further details on the project dubbed Lakes Pen Agri-Venture during a media briefing in New Kingston today.