By Delroy A. Whyte-Hall
Within the past year-and-a-half, thousands of Jamaicans have lost their jobs – conveniently blamed on the worldwide economic downturn.
This kind of job loss is unprecedented in Jamaica, and of course, the country’s leaders seem impotent in charting a way out of this crisis.
Resilient as though they might be, not everybody is taking it lying down. In fact, there been a marked increase in sellers of products and services than buyers – meaning that most people have decided to employers of themselves rather than being employees to the whims and fancy of others.
And one of the areas that people are turning to for their salvation is agriculture.
Subsequent to presenting his recent analysis of the key findings from the World Investment Report 2009 and the
relevance to Jamaica’s agriculture sector, I spoke to Dr. David Lowe (the outgoing Chairman, Agricultural Development Corporation, Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries), and asked whether there were any real opportunities for Jamaican entrepreneurs, particular for those who see agriculture as a viable business option.
Without hesitation, he answered: “Yes, there are… because going into your own farm business offers rewards that range from being your own boss, to working at something you enjoy, to earning income for yourself.”
However, Dr. Lowe noted that one of the first considerations in going into your own agricultural business is that it has got to be seen as any other business that comes with its own unique risks. “If you’re interested in agriculture, from either the prospective of production or local sales, then success of a farming operation requires careful planning and decision-making, and most importantly, a sound business plan to guide him or her through the initial start-up years. And as it relates to having a business plan, the AIC (Agro-Investment Corporation) is there to guide you through the process.”
In terms of opportunities that are available to potential small-to-medium-sized business farmers, Dr. Lowe said you don’t necessarily have to be knowledgeable or show competent in any the various farming disciplines. What you can do is to look to hiring someone with the required expertise in agriculture. “There are a lot of CASE (College of Agriculture, Science & Education) students out there who would gladly welcome the opportunity to be paid a stipend to help you develop the farm as it relates to best practices. Later on, you probably could hire him or her as a business person after graduation to fully manage the operation,” says Dr. Lowe.
Other areas in which you could get involved in agriculture, noted Dr. Lowe, include your focusing on agro-processing. “You might not have an interest in going out there in the hot sun and toiling away, but what you can do is to purchase raw materials from local farmers and create a value-added product, such as a paste or chutney, or something that can add value to an agro-processor or some other entrepreneur,” explains Dr. Lowe, adding that that was going to be critical in going forward!
He continues: “Now everything has to be methodological, and I warn and encourage small investors in agriculture that it is not the typical kind of business that carries the typical business risk. It is much more than one can imagine.
“The issue is to start small, look for high-premium products, don’t just look to producing fruits and vegetables unless you have a particular interest there, look at other things like lemon grass (fever grass), or look at the areas like spices – spices, like Jamaica red, or scotch bonnet; look at livestock, where there might be an opportunity for productive capacity to hotels or smaller supermarkets.
“Whatever happens with a small business, the person has to be one of focus, measured investment. Start small, build knowledge, grow, and develop.”
Another area of opportunity, according to Dr. Lowe, includes “contract farming.” His advice to small investors is that you have got to find someone who needs productive capacity, and sell to them.
“So if you have a supermarket, for example, Empire or Hi Lo, who needs a number of kilograms per year of certain agricultural produce, and should that number of kilograms equates to 100% of your capacity, then you have a relationship right there,” Dr. Lowe explains. “Start from a market-driven approach and work backwards. Don’t first produce and then expect to find sales.”
There you have it. Agriculture is definitely a choice avenue of enterprise, and I believe this is an area that small-to-medium-sized business investors should investigate. The potential to going into your own farm business is awesome – from being your own boss, to working at something you enjoy, to earning income for yourself!
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