The Business Year

Varun Baker

CEO, Farm Credibly

Sylburn Thomas

CEO, Agro Investment Corporation

Jamaica's agriculture sector is showing signs of immense growth, as evident from PPPs, building agro parks, providing better access to financing for small farmers, and utilizing emerging technologies.

What have been the main highlights in 2017?

VARUN BAKER It has been truly exciting to see our growth over our first year, transforming our initial concept into a business, and now finally reaching the stage of running a pilot with farmers. Our slogan is “To make productive farms more productive.” We provide a platform to connect lenders and farmers in Jamaica, which is important because the entire agriculture sector is vastly underrepresented in the lending portfolios of most commercial banks. We recently became a member of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA); we are in talks with various agro-processors within that network and are actively forming partnerships with these companies.

What is the concept of an agro park, and what potential does it offer for Jamaica?

SYLBURN THOMAS It is a shared economic space where the government lays down the infrastructure, such as drainage and irrigation, on the best lands in Jamaica that can be mechanized. We identify these lands and optimize their ability to produce, matching this with technical support from a group of experts assigned to parks, as well as a group of business personnel. Furthermore, we invite the private sector to take advantage of the sharing economy and become a part of the agriculture sector’s success.

What are your main strengths?

VB Locally, no one is competing us, especially considering the techniques and technology adopted by Farm Credibly. For instance, blockchain technology is definitely a strong point that is working in our favor because of its ability to build trust amongst the people using it. Having a distributed ledger on which to capture information builds up trust for both purchasers and farmers and by extension of course also for those willing to invest in farming. Thus, we are trying to start a trend and build a bridge between lenders and productive farmers in the agriculture sector.

How do you intend to facilitate investment in the agro sector?

ST We start with the market demand, looking carefully at what market signals are showing us, both domestically and internationally. This happens through Jamaican embassies, JAMPRO, and other trade associations. This means subscribing to international databases and government organizations to discover market demand and identify comparative advantages. Wherever we go, we select the soil and location that will be productive to the varieties we have identified. In consequence, we get the technical information and build it out into business models and case studies traduced into a stable plan that has been brought out carefully. Finally, we take this to the investment market, targeting local and international investors in trade shows, missions, and fairs. This is how our agro parks have achieved 90% production levels.

What can Jamaica learn from Africa?

VB Participating and emerging as one of the eight winners of the CTA Pitch Agrihack 2018 competition at the AGRF was an amazing, eye-opening experience for a young entrepreneur coming from a tiny island in the Caribbean. Similar platforms to ours operate within Africa in various contexts but on much larger scales. Jamaica can learn from Africa’s vast market sizes and the existing large scale mobile technology adoption, for instance by observing M-Pesa in Kenya.

How can Jamaica maximize agricultural exports, and which commodities offer the highest potential?

ST We are close to the US and Canada and have excellent access to those markets. With that in mind, we are looking at well-crafted foods and boutique items that are functional. The strongest point for Jamaica in the international market will always be quality. These products include coffee, cocoa beans, and herbs and spices, as well as fresh produce and roots. We will never be a commodity market because we do not have the scale to compete, though in specialty products, Jamaica will always have a comparative advantage in terms of quality.



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