Monday | May 5, 2014

To say Dr Nickeisha Reid is passionate about agriculture, would be like saying Brazilians love football.

Since March 4, she has been farm manager at Red Stripe. Under Project Grow, Dr Reid is directly responsible for driving the outcomes and proving the technology and agronomic production system at Red Stripe’s 36-acre pilot cassava farm at Bernard Lodge, St Catherine. With a wealth of knowledge that spans a wide cross section of biological sciences, her passion is strong.

“For one, it involves the outdoors,” she said. “It involves working with plants and being with nature and actually learning from nature.” This mirrors her religious beliefs as she professes her love for God and his gift of nature.

“The other thing is my belief that agriculture is one of the ways to developing a stronger economy in our country,” she said. “God blessed us in Jamaica with land and he’s given us a number of crops that do exceptionally well.” She feels Jamaica is primed for success in agriculture.

“We need some primary industries here in Jamaica and I think agriculture is one of them that can provide good jobs, a source of foreign exchange and can prevent us using the little we have,” she said. “I have high hopes for agriculture, it pushes me towards getting involved.”

Learning from each other

While she doesn’t have her own farm (yet), she surrounds herself with farmers, learning from them and vice versa.

“We always have these discussions because there’s what was taught in school … and what I’ve gathered from the literature,” she said. “But that has been supplemented a lot with the interaction and exchange with the farmers. I owe them a lot, they’re my teachers.”

A proud native of St James, Dr Reid attended the Mt Alvernia High School and Manning’s School in Westmoreland. She holds a PhD in botany with specialisation in weed ecology, organic farming, and roots and tubers. Dr Reid worked at the Food and Agriculture Organization, Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), and has been involved in various initiatives to transfer knowledge through farmer training and demonstration plots of cassava and other crops.

Move to Red Stripe

The move to Red Stripe ties in perfectly with her beliefs and expertise. While at CARDI, there was an initiative to help develop the cassava industry. Then Red Stripe started announcing its interest in utilising local raw materials in its products.

“We always talk about the amount of money we spend importing and the need to reduce that,” she said. “So actually seeing a company deciding to do something about it, I was impressed.” She’s heavily involved in the farm, literally getting her hands dirty at times.

After inviting God through prayer to start the day, she gets on with the business, whether liaising with the on-site project coordinator, discussing the production plans and helping with weeding and planting.

“It’s been great, it’s not without challenges and it’s different for me,” she said. “We’ve been working with several different teams from the agricultural sector, as well as our own people. And the level of cooperation, the drive and the energy to see this (project) work has been awesome.”

She tries to be at the farm all day from Monday to Friday, sometimes on weekends. She expects the first crop from Bernard Lodge by yearend. After the pilot project, her task is to further develop the outgrower programme to include Jamaica farmers across various communities to scale up the agricultural supply chain for Red Stripe’s cassava starch factory, to be built later this year.

Dr Reid envisions that in five years, the Bernard Lodge farm will be efficiently functioning, operating at optimum capacity and being a model for other farms.

“So persons can actually come and see a different kind of cassava production, large-scale, modern technologies, high-performing farm in operation at Bernard Lodge,” she said. “But I would also like to see a cluster with other farmers within the area … also producing, and their production systems actually increasing and the area actually producing more cassava.”