Bringing the farm closer to shoppers

YOUNG people who have ventured into agriculture have been using social media to market produce, eliminating the need for shoppers to go to the physical market.

Poultry farmer Michael Mclish, 25, who has been in the business for three years, says social media is used to market his business – The Clucking Chicken Ja – located in Portmore, St Catherine.

“I’ve made accessing goods pretty easy for my customers so once they contact me and make their order, I ask them the nearest drop point convenient for them – and I even do home deliveries. Every social media platform is organised so I would search for relevant topics relating to what I offer. For platforms largely used by hashtags I mark different posts by topics, which helps to generate more audience,” Mclish told the Jamaica Observer. Online polls, he added, have also helped to narrow down what customers are looking for.

“I’ve also started a YouTube channel to give persons interested in farming an insight to what farm life is about. I’ve done videos which show in detail how to prepare land for planting crops, how to set up the nursery for chickens, some of the tools and heavy machinery involved in the process. And this has generated more customers for me, so I’m thankful for that,” said Mclish.

His father, who leased a parcel of land for farming years ago, passed away in 2018 and Mclish has since decided to carry on the legacy.

“My family and I decided to continue doing what he loved, which were crops and livestock, so I’ve been in farming since September 2018. My main focus was crops until I realised that I did not have the earthly hands like my mother, so I decided to shift that focus to poultry and livestock. Now, I have some loyal customers who support my farm-grown business,” said Mclish.

Anthony Cole, 33, is the man behind Cole’s Fresh Produce in Kingston. Cole has been involved in agriculture for nine months, a decision he said was influenced by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“…The business itself is a relatively new one and I decided to use social media as my main marketing strategy. I saw the need for persons to have access to fresh produce whilst living in a pandemic, hence the business of delivering fresh produce right to their door steps. Social media allows us to connect with potential customers, others farmers and small businesses,” he said.

“I use social media to advertise my business to a wider niche market by showcasing locally grown products. Customers will make the orders through the various social media platforms. Once they make the orders, we schedule delivery 24 hours later,” said Cole.

Thirty-year-old Jermaine Black, better known as Farmer Black, is another farmer who has tapped into social media to advertise his products and ensure potential customers see his crops while they scroll. Black, of Linstead, St Catherine, has been farming since 2016. While he has always incorporated social media, he told the Observer that he started doing so more aggressively in 2019.

“Social media give me a positive energy. It attracts more people, [and] even people from different parishes a reach out. It’s because I don’t have a vehicle why me nuh go and deliver to them. I started using social media from 2016 when me just start, but me never did a too use it frequent like now. But now, I use it every day,” he said.

Black said he uses Twitter especially to detail the journey from the farm to the kitchen. This, he added, gets people more interested.

“Me post from me just a plant, suh till it start flowering and small fruits start come. And I post pictures when me a reap and when me a go market fi sell. It is easier for people to follow that way.”

Black, who also rears goats and pigs, also produces a variety of crops including cucumber, tomato, lettuce and sweet pepper. Through his promotion online, he has come to the attention of Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Floyd Green. “Me and him interact nuff and he even told me about a new programme that is free for small farmers weh soon start,” said Black.

Meanwhile, Cole said a number of younger people have been going into agriculture but advised that it shouldn’t only be perceived as a money-making venture.

“It is hard work,” he stressed, “especially if you want to provide quality products. The profit is minimal compared to other investment projects [but] it gives us great joy when a customer calls, text, direct message or share their satisfaction on social media about the products they receive from us.”

Mclish, meanwhile, urged more young people to get on board, pointing out that demands are high for poultry.

“I have gotten a lot of questions about the money turnover in meat production and I recommend to persons that it is the best option to venture into, as most of the young adults who asked either lost their jobs and need to do something for themselves, because job scouting is at the hardest point now. Some see hard times coming ahead and want to know they can rely on their business to still feed the family and making money at the same time.

“I have done my studies and realised that small poultry farmers like myself with a good market, business plan and a three-week cycle are making almost the same pay or more, depending on the production strategy, than our regular nine-to-five workers with degrees.”

Nonetheless, the farmers have underscored that here’s no denying the COVID-19 drawbacks.

“Getting chicks and equipment for my new broiler cycle has been a bit difficult because my supplier did not really open during the pandemic and I had to purchase a lot of feeding in bulk. Currently, with the US dollar sliding away and farm stores are raising the price on most of their items these past weeks…we have seen a big increase on animal feeding and now I have to budget ahead of the current prices,” said Mclish.

“Getting chicks is the problem most broiler farmers are facing right now as the suppliers, which are the hatcheries, informed us that they haven’t been receiving eggs from overseas so there is a lot of back-up in the system again. The last time this happened there was a chicken shortage so I am advising other poultry farmers to purchase more than the usual.”

Added Cole: “Sourcing quality products has been a drawback. I have learnt a lot from the various farmers and the work they put in to put food on our tables. There is also the ever-present case of praedial larceny and most of us are afraid of praedial larceny and victimisation.”

According to the Jamaica Productivity Centre, there has been an upward trend in productivity in the agriculture, farming and fishing industries between 2001 and 2019. Further, Agriculture Minister Green told the Observer that he is encouraged by the interest that young people right across Jamaica are showing in agriculture, especially with the approach they are taking in incorporating new technology and research and in their use of social media.

“The countries that will do well are those that prioritise agriculture and fisheries, so I am encouraging more youth to get involved in the business of food and to continue engaging the wider Jamaica. The new face of food is youth,” said Green.

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