Tourism Interests Urged to Invest in Agriculture

Chairman of the Tourism Linkages Council, Adam Stewart, is calling on hoteliers and other tourism interests, to invest in the local agriculture sector, noting that this is a sure-fire way of enhancing the country’s economic development.

He notes that “for too long, we have been ignoring the obvious linkage between two of Jamaica’s most important sectors – agriculture and tourism – and the benefits to be had in getting them to work in sync with each other”.

“I am today calling on and encouraging all of corporate Jamaica, all of the other hotel brands, locally and foreign-owned, to pay attention to the farmers. Pay attention to the farmers, who have a role to play in the growth that the industry is experiencing today. Their (the farmers) success is Jamaica’s success, which is the industry’s success,” he argues.

Mr. Stewart, who is also Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sandals Resorts International, was speaking to JIS News against the background of the company’s investment in an Irish potato pilot project.

Sandals has made upfront purchase of over $3 million worth of Irish potato seeds for local farmers, which equates to 1,300 bags, capable of planting 40 to 50 acres. The provision is expected to yield 700,000 pounds of potatoes to supply the Sandals chain.

While five farmers will benefit in this initial phase, the objective is to expand the programme, so that farmers will be the sole providers of Irish potatoes to the entire Sandals group, which comprise 11 resorts in Jamaica.

“The main aim is for Sandals to be 100 per cent supplied with Jamaica-grown Irish potato, with no further reason to import. This is a long-term sustainable programme,” Mr. Stewart says.

“It is about growing locally, buying locally, and putting these micro and small farmers into business with a guarantee buy-back programme,” he notes.

“What we are doing here at a starting place should yield some $25 million worth of business to these farmers and move us further and further away from import substitution,” Mr. Stewart adds.

The Sandals CEO says that while the focus is on Irish potatoes, there are other opportunities with onions, yams, turnips, etc. “Ours is a pilot project, which will guide us on the way forward,” he notes.

He tells JIS News that the objective is to enable agriculture to maximise its full potential, noting that there is no better way than to consummate the marriage with tourism.

“This is not just to prove to ourselves but for us to show the country how corporate Jamaica can get involved,” Mr. Stewart says.

The Sandals initiative is being strongly supported and praised by Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Karl Samuda.

“We need the private sector to provide the capital, the working capital, to give our farmers that much-needed push, so in this regard, I must commend the efforts we have been seeing from the Sandals hotel chain,” Mr. Samuda says.

“They are pumping millions into the farming of Irish potatoes to supply their needs. Now, very soon, they will be coming off the grid as far as Irish potato needs are concerned, because they are now financing the development of the crop to satisfy the Sandals chain,” he notes.

Mr. Samuda says it is mind-boggling to think of the prospects for agriculture and, by extension, the economic fortunes of Jamaica, if the Sandals model should be emulated by others.

“Imagine if we had the capital to apply that model across the country. Imagine if we had that model applied in a more intense way. We could produce Irish potatoes of the highest quality where, instead of importing it from the Netherlands and other places, we could now be cultivating it for both the domestic and overseas markets. We could be producing excessive amounts where we could store it and then export it; make by-products of it,” he argues.

Mr. Samuda adds that the opportunities in agriculture are limitless and that when combined with tourism, “we have the potential to solve all of our problems while giving our people the quality of life that they deserve”.

For his part, Manchester farmer, Leon Roberts, says the support he is receiving from Sandals could not have come at a better time and will serve to boost production.

“I am a young farmer, who simply lacked the resources to realise my dreams. I have the land space and I am willing to put in the work. With this assistance there is no telling how far I can go,” he says.

Dwight Peterkin, another Manchester farmer, says he sees the project as an opportunity “to make something of my life”.

“I am a potato farmer and I just didn’t have the kind of market to give me the drive to do more with all this land space. With this kind of opportunity, we can even get more people to come out and farm, especially with the knowledge that we will now be supplying all the Sandal hotels,” he says.

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