(JAMAICA OBSERVER) – Sandals Resorts International last Wednesday kicked off a pilot project with Jamaican farmers which will see the hotel chain providing more than $25 million in assistance, starting with the up-front purchase and distribution of $3.5 million worth of Irish potato seeds to five farmers in Manchester.
Under the partnership, the five farmers will be the sole providers of Irish potatoes to the entire Sandals group, which comprises 11 resorts in Jamaica, further reducing the company’s import bill and creating direct added revenue/market for the local farming community, and ultimately a boost to the local economy.
The $3.5 million worth of Irish potato seeds, amounts to 1,300 bags, capable of being planted on 40 acres, and is expected to yield up to 750,000 pounds of potatoes which can be stored for up to one year.
“At the macro level, Jamaica imports 20 million pounds of Irish potatoes annually. Just shy of two million of that 20 million is consumed in the hospitality industry,” said Sandals’ Deputy Chairman and CEO Adam Stewart, who is also chairman of the National Tourism Linkages Council.
He explained that among the long-term expectations of the partnership with the farmers is ultimately for the Sandals hotel chain to be exclusively supplied with locally grown Irish potatoes.
“Our objective is that these $3 million worth of seeds will yield some 700,000 to 750,000 pounds of Irish potato, moving us closer to be able to consume and get a 100 per cent sustainability from local farming in the Sandals chain,” Stewart said.
“I think what this represents at a higher level is just to show how easily we can connect; find the gap between the hospitality sector and the agriculture sector, identify willing farmers and put them into business by donating the seeds,” he added.
He encouraged other hoteliers and corporate Jamaica entities to copy Sandals’ work with local farmers.
“I really call and encourage all corporate Jamaica — all of the other hotel brands, locally owned, foreign owned to pay attention to the farmers. Pay attention to the farmers — that needs to be a part of the growth,” Stewart said.
“We at Sandals are very proud to lead this initiative, but it is also a case where others can look and learn and work similarly as to how they can help the whole consumption cycle,” he added.
The investment, with an interest-free payback of the initial sum from the farmers to Sandals, is set to commence in instalments after the first reaping — estimated to be 10-15 weeks from planting.
The farmers were very appreciative of the initiative by Sandals.
“On behalf of my colleagues, I want to thank Sandals for coming to the assistance of farmers. I hope other hotels would do the same,” said Anthony Murray, who spoke for the group.
Meanwhile, Stewart said that down the road he wants the project to incorporate other crops.
“We are going to work with the farmers in the actual staging of the crop. but, of course, when you have a guaranteed market, not only an opportunity to look forward to, it gives them an opportunity to earn an income which then, hopefully, will propel them to getting the next set of seeds, which then they could branch away from Irish potatoes next time, going into the next demand item we have at Sandals or hopefully in the hospitality industry,” Stewart argued.
He said that, hopefully, in three years’ time they can see farmers growing at least 15 crops and selling millions of pounds of product, not only to Sandals, but to the rest of the industry.
Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Karl Samuda, welcomed the initiative.
“This is an encouraging initiative, one that we applaud and one that we fully endorse and will work towards the continuation of it with a view to extending it to other crops,” Samuda said.
“It’s consistent with the policy which we are promoting, which non-agricultural investors are now investing in agriculture with one additional feature; in that, the hotel sector is a partner with the agricultural sector and the farmers of Jamaica who can supply the vast majority of the fresh fruits and vegetables that they need,” Samuda said.