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Farming the new sexy profession
Throw out the old ideas you had of farming: grizzled old men grimly hoeing rows of lettuce, clay caked on their boots. Today’s farmer is young and energetic, interested in eco-tourism and eating raw. They may still have clay on their boots, but modern farmers are looking beyond the dirt and into how technology and international networking can make the local industry sexier and more productive.
Meet Lesley-Ann Jurawan of Delft Cocoa Plantations. Like most cocoa farmers, Jurawan manages the upkeep of the cocoa plants, sources experienced labour for harvesting and oversees the cocoa fermentation and drying processes. It’s hard, sweaty labour, because cocoa plantations are like relationships: they must be lovingly tended by hand.
But this young woman has gone beyond just producing cocoa beans for sale. In her opinion, processing has the real appeal. After doing all the short courses she could find in chocolate making and the chocolatier business, she set up the Violetta Fine Chocolates arm of the plantation that produces chocolate products like truffles and cupcakes, seducing customers with its smooth, rich taste.
She even started offering plantation tours and educational chocolate parties. An easy product to market, since T&T’s trinitario cocoa flavourful taste profile attracts a lot of international attention. “It is a great product for tourism,” she enthused.
“People are just lining up to visit cocoa farms. And that’s a significant income because people are paying in US and Euros.”
Jurawan is on a crusade to bring as many people into cocoa farming as she can by making them see how sexy the industry really is. She’s working on creating a school for regional chocolate makers and chocolatiers to learn how to produce sensuous, international-quality chocolate products.
She’s also partnered with the UWI Cocoa Research Unit on several of its initiatives, including a chocolate show and chefs’ class last week at the Hilton Trinidad, with chocolate ambassador Chef Bart Van Cauwenberghe as the featured speaker.
“If we don’t ramp up the cocoa industry within the next five years there won’t be an industry to save. And chocolate is the glamorous pull to get the young people in,” she said. The Ministry of Food Production, Land and Marine Affairs has also been on a drive to encourage as many young people as they can to take agriculture seriously as a profession.
The Agriculture Professional Development Programme launched in April, pairs graduates of UWI’s Science and Agriculture Faculty with actual agri-businesses for an internship where they can implement the theories they’ve learned and get a good grasp on the real-life experience of farming and agri-business. Pumping young, vibrant blood in the sector can only be a good thing, the ministry’s initiatives seem to suggest.
And even young people without formal training in agriculture are finding a niche in the industry. David Thomas and Rachel Renie run an agri-business company called D Market Movers that delivers fresh produce, dairy, eggs, fresh juices, meats and seafood to homes or offices.
In his mid-30s, Thomas looks much younger. And his enthusiasm for all things healthy and food-related is contagious. Slim and pretty, Renie is in her 20s. Neither of them looks like your typical agri-business owner. But once Thomas freed himself of his nine to five job at a local bank, he met someone who had some land to plant in Aranguez and got down and dirty in the entire process—from planting to selling the goods in the wholesale market. When he started delivering veggies to his former workplace, that’s where the business idea began.
With a first degree in International Relations, Renie isn’t too keen on actually tilling the soil herself, but she was fully supportive of the great business idea. But Thomas had been taking orders on paper or via Excel sheets, which was not the most efficient way to work. “I had a problem with the functionality of it. That’s where putting it online made more sense to me,” she said.
So Renie brought the business online by building the Web site where they take orders from clients. Using online technology to charm their clientele into buying healthier, low or no pesticide produce has made it easier for their business to grow, and for them to network with like-minded entrepreneurs.
“Through our online presence, I met farmers in Barbados who are looking for regional markets. They contacted me. And those linkages could go either way,” Thomas said. D Marker Movers believes that it’s important that more and more young people get involved in farming and other agri-business models.
“Young people need to realise how important it is to produce food. Everybody is being affected by food prices. So their spending power is being reduced by the lack of people in agriculture,” Thomas said. “And the international food industry places more emphasis on how much food it can produce rather than the quality of food it produces, so it’s up to the consumer to take a good look at what they are eating,” he added.
T&T’s food import bill hovers around $4 billion annually, so it just makes financial sense for the country to start producing more food. And who better to start the revolution than the youth? “This is the only way forward for our country,” Jurawan argued. “Have you seen our food import bill? It’s ridiculous! And there is really a lot of money to be made.”
Even if you don’t want to jump on a tractor yourself, there is still a place for you in agri-business, Renie said. She maintains the Web site, processes orders, does marketing and accounting. And occasionally, she helps to harvest the goods.
But the opportunities for entrepreneurship are what really could make farming seem sexier than other professions.
“You will be the one in charge. There’s a level of independence that you have, being your own boss, you are able to practice your own morals and values. So that level of independence could be very appealing,” said UWI agri-business student, Keron Bascombe. “Yes, I would say that farming is sexy,” Thomas said, laughing. “But sexy is in the eye of the beholder, so it’s all about what you take out of it. If you see that you have brought something from seed to harvest, to feed somebody with it, that is definitely appealing.”
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