AFTER conquering the local market for fries made from sweet potato, cassava and dasheen extracted from T&T soils, cutting-edge agro-processor Novo Farms took on the challenge of mass-producing cassava-based flour and dasheen.
Novo Farms, based in Brechin Castle, aims to replace imports as the company seeks to invest in, develop and manufacture healthier, higher quality, locally grown local produce, Novo Farms Chairman Glen Ramdhani said.
Since launching its agricultural processing plant in 2018, the company has built a portfolio of locally made products under its LIFE brand that can replace and compete with imported brands, the tech entrepreneur said. The LIFE brand was launched last October, offering consumers a wide selection of carefully washed, chilled and machine-cut vegetables, salads and frozen foods, all sourced from T&T.
“So far we have had success with our locally produced fries, especially our sweet potato fries which are our fastest selling product. Our dasheen fries, which are gluten-free, are new to the market and we continue to raise awareness of this product and its health benefits. Our investment in our agricultural processing plant is equipped with production lines to produce in volumes and can scale to meet growing demand.
“We are convinced that we can produce better quality local products that can substitute for imported foreign brands. We have made this our primary focus when creating this facility, as we have seen the global trends and dark clouds emerging on the horizon when it comes to food safety and food sustainability. We made the investment early and at the right time,” Ramdhani said.
Flour Tobago key
The reason Novo is getting into flour production, using cassava and dasheen inputs, is the desire to produce flour based on locally grown produce that is healthier and more nutritious than the wheat flour that dominates the market. local market for centuries.
Novo Farms has shown its seriousness in focusing on import substitution by recently signing a Memorandum of Understanding with Tobago Agri-business Development Company (TADCO) for the development of a cassava flour and dasheen production facility as well as a modern food and meat packing facility in Tobago.
“To build our local food production capacity, we cannot do it in Trinidad alone. We also need to build Tobago’s agricultural capacity. We see great opportunities in Tobago as we seek to build and grow with TADCO. said Ramdhani.
“As Secretary, this is a proud moment for Tobago as we fulfill the mandate to provide alternative flour to the entire region. This administration is committed to building synergies and collaborating with key players in the industry. This is the only way to move Tobago forward towards becoming the best small island on the planet,” said Nathisha Charles-Pantin, Secretary of Food Security, Natural Resources, environment and sustainable development.
TADCO President Ricardo Alfred said, “This is just the beginning of our positive footprint as we grow Tobago’s goods and services. TADCO is the voice of Tobago’s agribusiness. This will help us build our capacity. »
The company plans to start setting up the flour production facility by mid-July, with the goal of producing flour by September. To achieve this goal, Novo Farms is working with TADCO to build local agricultural capacity in Tobago. He said the cassava and dasheen inputs to produce the flour will come from both Tobago and Trinidad.
Working through TADCO, Ramdhani hopes to replicate in Tobago the contract farming model that worked at Novo’s $60 million agricultural processing plant at Brechin Castle in central Trinidad.
“We will negotiate a fixed and fair price with ground supply farmers in Tobago and Trinidad that is mutually acceptable to them and to the company. Every six months there will be a review of the fixed price to ensure that the farmer does not lose,” Ramdhani said. The contract will also include a minimum amount of cassava and dasheen that farmers are required to produce, he said.
“The farmer is guaranteed a price that allows them to better manage their production,” Ramdhani said, adding that the way Novo generally works is that they sit down with the farmers to get an idea of their cost of production. average, then constructs the farmgate price. model from this information.
Novo spent approximately $12 million to purchase the equipment needed to produce cassava flour and dasheen, with most of the equipment being sourced from Asia.
Asked about the price of cassava flour and dasheen for consumers with regard to the market, Ramdhani said, “Our goal is to develop a product that is affordable for everyone, but especially for low and middle income households who are now under pressure from rising commodity prices.
When asked if Novo Farms was a profitable business, Ramdhani replied, “We expect to be profitable by the last quarter of 2022.”
It is time
When Ramdhani set up the Brechin Castle Food Processing Plant in 2008, producing flour from locally sourced land was one of the main product categories he had in mind.
“Our goal has always been to produce flour from local soil, but it was always a matter of timing. External factors now make it a good time to embark on the production of indigenous flour. These external factors include global supply chain issues, increased shipping costs, export restrictions in wheat-producing countries, and wheat supply issues due to climate change,” Ramdhani said.
He said the company plans to start production of cassava and dasheen flour at 500 to 1,000 kilograms per hour, with the goal of reaching 5,000 kilograms per hour within one to two years.
“This target to increase production of cassava flour and dasheen within two years will be aligned with an increase in farmers’ capacity to produce cassava and dasheen. We will work with the Ministry of Agriculture in Trinidad as well as TADCO in Tobago to encourage farmers to increase their production of ground provisions,” the businessman said.
Novo is using its experience in technology and innovation, which is part of its agricultural processing plant, to transform the local food sector, Ramdhani said.
“We are developing products that will be game changers in food production and the way we consume food in the near future, making them healthy, affordable, accessible and easy to prepare for all market segments,” said he declared.
The innovation is reflected in the “Instant Line” soon to be launched by the company, which takes over the culinary culture of T&T and produces high quality products for the local and export market. The company teased the market with what’s to come at last month’s Guyana Agri-Investment Forum and Expo, where the new products generated excitement and buzz among customers and Caricom delegates.