Regional

JSIF helps Manchester tea farmers

Monday, March 24, 2014    

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Jamaica enjoys a well-earned reputation in the global beverage industry for premium coffee, rums, and beer.

Soon, teas will be added to the list as a small Manchester cooperative is poised to help carve a niche for made-in-Jamaica teas, according to a news release from the community development agency Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF).

The Southern Manchester Herbs & Spices Cooperative Society (SMHSCS), which boasts 30 stakeholders and 150 farmers, provides dried herbs and spices such as lemongrass, peppermint, rosemary, cerasee and basil to tea producers in Jamaica.

However, the producers have been faced with serious challenges caused largely by variations in the drying process, which lead to inconsistent quality. Doris Lewis, president of the society, says that while farmers have continued to produce, it's been a struggle as a result of quality concerns.

Now, a state-of-the art drying facility in Bossue, Pratville, in southern Manchester will ensure that spices are dried in a controlled environment in keeping with Jamaica's public health and international standards, the news release said.

The drying facility is the result of a J$21-m project of the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI) of JSIF, which involved the incorporation of modern technology into the drying process utilised by members of the cooperative.

As a result of the new processes, farmers who previously experienced losses of between 15 and 20 per cent due to improperly dried herbs and spices are assured of a higher volume of product to be delivered to tea manufacturing companies. This reduction in losses will enhance the venture and sustain the livelihood of many, while increasing the sustainability of Jamaica's tea industry.

According to the JSIF release, the farmers could not be more pleased.

Lewis noted that "the project has provided three containers - one for an office and two for the drying facilities. The containers are solar-powered and provide a central point for drying the herbs and spices". The drying facility will also allow the herbs and spices to retain their colour, flavour and quality.

Lewis said that the cooperative will now also be purchasing green mint from farmers and is encouraging young farmers "to get more involved" as they push for increased production to deliver more teas locally and internationally.

Under the REDI/JSIF project the members of the cooperative benefited from training in business management and good agricultural practices (GAP) and received assistance in developing a five-year business plan to guide their operations.

Vincent Thompson, agricultural specialist with the REDI project, said the 1,500-square metre drying plant which facilitates the cleaning, drying and grinding of herbs and spices to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) certification is one of several projects aimed at improving market access for micro- and small-scale rural agriculture producers and tourism produce service providers.

SMHSCS members range in age from 15 to over 60. They are from Pratville and surrounding communities including Hermitage, Campbell's Castle, Lancaster, New Broughton, and Mannings Field, with a combined population of approximately 3,485.

Through the project, linkages have been established with a nearby pig-rearing facility, also funded by REDI/JSIF. Under that arrangement, biogas produced at the pig farm will be used to power the equipment at the herb and spice-drying plant.

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