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Lauders Agro Processors Inc – New hope for farmers

Lauders Agro Processors Inc – New hope for farmers

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The new agricultural processing company, the Lauders Agro Processors Inc, is poised to change the face of Agriculture in St.Vincent and the Grenadines.{{more}}

Since April year, the modern enterprise, which is based in the rural district of Lauders, has been giving farmers across St.Vincent and the Grenadines an opportunity to reap more tangible benefits from their crops.

The Lauders Agro Processors Inc is part of the national Agricultural diversification thrust, put forward as one of the answers to the many problems that confront the sector.

In the 80s and 90s, St.Vincent and the Grenadines heavily depended on Bananas for the sustenance of the economy. Life in the agricultural sector flourished and bananas were called ‘Green Gold’. And, as with most things in life, the saying ‘all good things come to an end’ proved to be true – Banana is king no more.

Then came the big question. Should the state allow this pivotal sector to die? The Government felt no.

That’s why the agricultural diversification programme was designed to move the sector away from its monocrop state.

One has to admit that for some time, Vincentians were unable to see the true value of this diversification programme, but all the fears and gloom that farmers once experienced seem to be coming to an end with the establishment of the Lauders Agro Processors Inc (LAP), an initiative spearheaded by WIBDECO and National Properties Limited (NPL).

The company is set up to purchase and market Dasheens, Eddoes, Plantain, Coconuts, Golden Apples, Tania, Ginger, Sweet Potatoes and other root crops.

Farmers in the Dasheen belt (Richland Park to South Rivers) now have a guaranteed market for their crops. So, too, do farmers from the Leeward side of the island who plant Eddoes, farmers from the North Windward end who plant Sweet Potatoes and farmers from the Lauders community and environs who plant Yams and Tania.

General Manager of the company, Delia McDowall, disclosed that although there is much competition in the market, LAP pays farmers up to $1.20 a lb for Dasheen. She said while some farmers may sell 40 sacks per week, each weighing 100 lbs, there are farmers who sell over 100 sacks. Farmers are paid within a week.

Though the market is thriving, it still faces many challenges, said McDowall, especially from similar businesses. As a result, she believes that for the continued growth of the company, farmers must be prepared to take smaller farm gate prices which would cover their cost of production, but allow St.Vincent on a whole to be more competitive on the global market.

McDowall is also advising farmers to stagger their planting so that all their crops would not be ready for harvesting at the same time. Farmers are also encouraged to plant according to good agricultural practices so that they would get the best yields. McDowall said when planting, farmers should apply the necessary chemicals, fertilizers and bleach at the requested time.

“We’re set up to add value to crops. Basically, increase likeability and make them more convenient for customers. All they have to do is put the food item in some boiling water and the food is prepared,” said McDowall, while explaining some of the activities that take place at the market.

The LAP also peel, parboil, blast freeze and package produce. According to McDowall, all food items will be sold frozen. Some will be sold individually while others will be sold in combination packs. The business also plans to make soup packs available to customers. For example, one soup pack might be a mixture of Tania and vegetables.

“We have done some trials and are in the process of finalizing the design for the packages,” said McDowall.

At the moment, LAP ships Dasheen every week to the United Kingdom, and every two weeks to United States. Golden Apples are also shipped every week to the United States.

“A challenge is that both markets are different. The market requirements are different. In the UK they want the Dasheen when it arrives to look as if it is still growing …and it should have a weight of 3 1/2 to 9 lbs. The US expects the Dasheen to be 2 1/2 to 4 lbs. They want it dry which would involve water loss. They want it clean, meaning no soil on it, no root and no cabbage. So when we sell to the UK you get a bit more money because of the weight,” said McDowall.

She is concerned that “these days farmers are not applying the right fertilizer resulting in small Dasheens. These can only be exported to the US market while the UK market is left void,” said McDowall.

At the moment, LAP is striving to upgrade the facility so that it would become Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) compliant. This process should be completed by January 2009.

And just recently, the Board of Directors hired Food Technologist Consultant Barrie Axtelle to assist with the preparation of business plans. He will develop items such as snacks and essential oils while working along with Operations Manager Franklyn Murphy.

For the foreseeable future, things appear to be looking up for farmers as they make use of the opportunities provided to them by LAP. (HN)