Charmaine Blair-Stewart has been managing her 11.5-acre farm in the St. Thomas Parish of Jamaica since her husband died suddenly five years ago. She grows several crops, including cassava — one that has drawn the interest of an iconic Jamaican beer company.
Red Stripe, brewed by Heinekin Jamaica, brands itself as “Jamaican Pride in a Bottle.” Now, the company’s philanthropic arm, the Desnoes & Geddes (D&G) Foundation, is taking this label to heart by teaming up with the Jamaica Rural Economy and Ecosystems Adapting to Climate Change II (Ja REEACH II) project to expand its network of Jamaican farmers who supply cassava for the beer’s production.
“The training taught me that we are entrepreneurs, and we need to see farming as a business. It opened my eyes a lot.”–Charmaine Blair-Stewart, a cassava farmer contracted with Red Stripe
The Ja REEACH II project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development and government of Jamaica partners and implemented by ACDI/VOCA, is helping smallholder cassava farmers meet these private-sector demands. Charmaine already considered herself business savvy but decided to take part in a week-long Farming as a Business course held through a Ja REEACH II-led Farmer Field School.
Charmaine began using a labor calendar for the first time and learned how to document her finances. “I was totally ignorant to it because I figured more or less you plant, you sell, you spend your money. But I wasn’t managing the money as well as I thought,” she said. “It has taught me how to be more disciplined in my money management.”
This knowledge paid off when Charmaine received a $2.5 million JMD small-business loan to help her fulfill a three-year contract to grow 100 acres of cassava for Red Stripe beer production.
“With the fact that I am a good farmer, and I follow good agricultural practices, I became eligible for a loan,” she said.
She intends to plant cassava in sequences, intercropped with other short-term crops to ensure a steady cashflow — a concept she learned through the Farming as a Business course.
To help contract farmers like Charmaine succeed, Ja REEACH II is building the capacity of D&G Foundation researchers to collect and share data on cassava cultivation. The foundation set up three cassava trial plots in St. Thomas and St. Elizabeth parishes for testing of climatic factors, starch content, and more to find the highest-yielding varieties.
“We’re encouraging farmers to build those practices and to build a cassava production culture,’” said Fradian Murray, a D&G Foundation research assistant.
Ja REEACH II is also ensuring that those findings reach cassava farmers through extension officers from the Jamaican government’s Rural Agricultural Development Authority.
“At the end of the day, you’re looking at a more sustainable business. That’s what we want to present to them.”–Fradian Morrey, a D&G Foundation research assistant
While Charmaine cannot predict her earnings for the next three years, she expects the contract to be a boon. “If I harvested two acres, and I was comfortable with my yield, then 100 acres with my practices will be 100 times better,” she said.
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Learn more about Ja REEACH II.