Jamaica Looks to Bamboo to Diversify its Economy
Over the last years, the production of Jamaica’s Sugar Industry has been on the decline leaving many persons who depended on the industry jobless and without a reliable source of income. The Government of Jamaica is however looking to diversify the economy through bamboo, which it said will create a new value-added industry.
Senator Aubyn Hill, Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce in explaining the importance of Jamaica diversifying its economy said that the Jamaican economy has to change. “The way we have been doing this is that we have gone through the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) phase and that has grown and continues to grow but here we are now, building an industry around agriculture,” he said referring to the cultivation of bamboo.
Senator Hill made the remarks while attending the prelaunch of Bamboo Bioproducts International at the British High Commission, recently. The company will cultivate in excess of 25,000 acres of farmland across the island for the production of bamboo pulp as part of an approximately US$400 million investment in Jamaica, centred in Westmoreland.
“We are now living in a world where we want to have green results, renewable energy and a reduced carbon footprint. The bamboo plant is now being looked at to make energy and paper. But across Jamaica, many persons who didn’t have a job will be able to grow bamboo now and sell it to a factory,” he said, pointing out that this would be a positive change for the Jamaican economy as it will create significant employment in rural areas.
According to Bamboo Bioproducts International, the project is estimated to create some 1,000 direct employment in Jamaica and in excess of approximately 10,000 indirect jobs.
Diane Edwards, president of the Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO) is hoping that this industry will evolve to replace the once flourishing Sugar Industry.
“We have not seen an industry that can actually involve almost every parish in Jamaica, with the exception of Kingston and St. Andrew, that can really impact on the lives of small farmers,” she said.
“So you are going to see a huge economic impact, a logistics impact and you are also creating a proof of concept for people who want to focus and centre their products on Jamaica and distribute to the world,” she added.
The president of JAMPRO said the industry, when fully operational, will create a new ecosystem with the barging of [bamboo] chips around the island, which will introduce a new type of logistics and industry across the island.
The industry will see Jamaica exporting bamboo pulp to major multinationals in the world that produce paper. “So you are talking about exponentially impacting Jamaica’s exports and foreign exchange earnings,” she explained.
David Stedeford, founder and chief executive officer of Bamboo Bioproducts International said that the financing of the project should be completed by the end of the year and preparation and planting of the land should commence in the first quarter of 2023.
“The first bamboo pulp mill will be established in Jamaica. We are already preparing Belize, we are opening discussions in Guyana but the proof of concept will be in Jamaica and Jamaica will always be our home. The reason we are here is that Jamaica has the right bamboo, the right climate to produce the bamboo and you have the labour force that is eagerly waiting for sustainable employment,” he informed.
Meanwhile, farmers in Westmoreland are welcoming the project as they prepare to seize the opportunity. Moses Chybar, president of the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce acknowledged that the Sugar Industry was on the decline.
“It [the Sugar Industry] has left a void and that void has not been filled. So a lot of persons are out of a job, so if there is no job, there is no income and that has hit the economy of Westmoreland very hard. So when we hear about this project we believe that certainly, if it gets going, it will be a solution for a lot of people so we are very excited about it,” he said.