Black Immigrant Daily News
All Fitzroy Mais has to do to sell his strawberries these days is post a picture of the succulent fruits to his Whatsapp status.
“Just this morning, I picked two pounds of strawberries and put them on my status, and within five minutes, my status was burning up with people asking, where can I get strawberries?”, the St Andrew farmer revealed.
Mais started Fitzroy’s Organic Farm after losing his job in 2012 when his daughter was just two months old. “I was making $50,000 a month, and I decided not to work for anybody else; I just turned to the farm”, he said.
Starting by planting broccoli, Mais tried strawberries in 2014, and after “a lot of trial and failure”, business is looking up.
“I get repeat customers every week”, Mais said. “My research shows that we are producing only 10 per cent of the strawberries we consume in Jamaica. I want to bring that to at least 45 per cent over the next 10 to 20 years”.
Fitzroy Mais, owner of Fitzroy’s Organic Farm
Mais is one of 50 beneficiaries from rural St Andrew who completed a seven-week business incubator training, which is a joint effort between the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Junior Achievement Jamaica (JAJ) under the FAO’s “Inclusive and Resilient Agri-Food System in Rural and Peri-Urban Territories of Kingston” project.
The group, majority of which was female, proudly participated in a graduation exercise and closing ceremony at Medallion Hall in Kingston on February 1.
Mais was one of five beneficiaries selected to pitch for further assistance to grow their business under the programme.
During the training course, participants were introduced to the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and business management. The technical assistance received from the training will support farmers in developing and expanding sustainable business ventures in different areas of the food system.
Dorothy Price-Maitland of African Gardens Juices displays bottles of her sorrel beer
The project also built the technical capacity of 40 government counterparts within the Rural Agriculture Development Agency (RADA); Agro-Investment Corporation; the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries – Agricultural Land Management Division; the College of Agriculture, Science & Education (CASE) and the Jamaica 4-H Clubs. The trainers will support farmers to scale up their activities consistent with the principles of business management best practices.
Thalia Smith Harriott, interim executive director of JAJ said the graduation was the culmination of a seven-month project which involved training-of-trainer sessions with RADA, JAS, AIC and other stakeholders as part of the sustainability strategy. She said these groups helped to identify beneficiaries in communities such as Golden Spring, Gordon Town, Content Gap, Bull Bay and August Town.
“The programme involved entrepreneurship, looking at the business model canvas, aspects of the business plan including marketing, research and the production process, and finances”, Smith Harriott told Loop News. She said a representative of the Companies Office of Jamaica made a presentation about registering a business for those who were eligible to do so.
“A majority of the participants were women as it is a goal of the FAO to reach women, especially in farming which is usually dominated by men. We also included young persons because many times farming is not seen as attractive to the youth, so we had to show them that farming can be a viable business venture”, Smith Harriott said.
Beneficiaries in the FAO/JAJ Business Incubator Programme pose with stakeholders
Dr Crispim Moreira, FAO’s Representative for Jamaica, the Bahamas and Belize in his remarks at the graduation congratulated the group on completion of the course.
“The FAO’s framework is built on better production, better nutrition, better environment and a better life”, he said, noting that the inclusion of youth and women was part of the effort to “drive economic change to raise the standard of living in our rural and urban communities”
Crispin said a recent report on food security revealed that “the Caribbean region has the most expensive cost for a healthy diet” and said there was a link between the inability to afford a healthy diet with poverty levels and levels of inequality. He urged the farmers to use the skills they had learned and to network with others to increase their income, reduce poverty, and narrow the margin of inequality.
Another beneficiary Michael Nichols said the training had given him more confidence in business.
“I’m putting in 18 to 20 hours per day, working, working,” said Nichols who runs Miracle Forces with his wife, Gwendolyn. The company produces a range of herbal medicine products, including Miracle Fire Rub for pain relief.
“I just got approval from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration in America and the Bureau of Standards Jamaica”, Nichols said in his testimonial. “I have been getting a good response and I’m getting so many calls from all over the world. I need some assistance, so I can set up a production plant”.
Other activities the farmers are involved in include chicken and livestock rearing, ground provisions beekeeping and honey production, vegetables and other related activities such as the production of strainer bags for juice making.