Sorrel farmers in Westmoreland will soon have a facility, for the processing of value-added products made from the sorrel plant. This is as a result of an application made by the Bethel Town Agricultural Cooperative for funding, to the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI), which is funded by the World Bank and implemented by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF).
“The desire of the cooperative was to increase the earnings possible from sorrel cultivation, while providing schools within the area with a nutritious locally made alternative juice,” states Stephannie Hutchinson-Ffrench, project manager for REDI. The group is expected to realize a 400 per cent increase in revenue, from having the value-added products from the processing facility for which funding has been approved.
Meanwhile, the Bethel Town cooperative chairman Mr. Ian Hill notes, that the group is seeking a larger market for their products as well as better returns, overall. “Farmers in Westmoreland currently sell mainly to higglers who sell in municipal markets, and are not able to attract premium prices due to the nature of their market,” he explains. “This therefore limits their earning potential, compared to if they were to be higher on the value chain.”
The project idea fits within the drive by the Ministry of Agriculture ‘Eat what you Grow and Grow what you Eat ‘ campaign, as well as the Ministry of Education’s drive for nutritious locally grown alternatives to imported concentrate. The approved project will see the construction of a 204 square meter modern agro-processing facility which conforms to food safety standards, and includes production area, bathrooms, dry storage area, cold storage area, sorting area and an office.
Products under consideration are bag drinks, wine, jams/jelly, chutneys and sorrel-flavored treats. Total project cost is J$24,829,240.00 with the amount requested from JSIF being J$19,321,040, and community contribution in kind being J$4,310,000.
Hutchinson-Ffrench states, that the aim of the project is to supply value added sorrel products to the market, as well as generate employment opportunities for community members through expanded sorrel production, and transportation of raw material and the finished goods, and vending of the finished products.
Bethel Town is the major sorrel producing area of Jamaica. The sorrel drink produced by the Bethel Town JAS will be marketed under a brand soon to be registered. The members of the Bethel Town Cooperative Society, have approximately 13 acres of land that they farm with sorrel. With the Westmoreland Association of Branch Societies providing through its members another 115 acres, committed to plant sorrel for the facility.
According to Hutchinson-Ffrench, a market for fruit drinks to schools, shops, and supermarkets in Westmoreland has been established by the group, who also hope to use as a selling point, research conducted by Northern Caribbean University (NCU) about the health benefits of sorrel.
Research done by the NCU has found that sorrel is very rich in anti-oxidants, and products made from it is healthy for consumption, and is much in demand, especially sorrel bag drinks. REDI’s manager notes, “the project is in keeping with REDI’s Project Development Objective (PDO) to increase market access for small scale rural producers.
It will contribute to the government’s thrust of safeguarding food security, and the creation of sustainable employment for rural communities,” she notes. ‘In addition, Jamaicans are more health conscious and as such, there is an increase in demand for healthier food and drink options.” She states that the potential market includes, but is not limited to; schools, restaurants, supermarkets, grocery stores, shops, bars and health food stores in Westmoreland, St. James, Hanover, and St. Elizabeth.