Through honey deal, Hub J'cans give back

By Talia Whyte
Originally Published in The Bay State Banner

A group of enterprising Jamaican Americans living in Boston has taken the old maxim “charity begins at home” to heart — and they are using their resources to serve those less fortunate in their homeland.

The Boston Diaspora Ventures LLC entered into a collaborative agreement with the All Island Bee Farmers Association (AIBFA) last month to help reinvigorate honey production in the Caribbean nation for international distribution. The idea for the venture came from a number of Jamaicans living here who felt they need to give back.

“Many of us in the Jamaican Diaspora came together about eight years ago and wanted to do something back home,” said Kenneth Guscott, honorary consul to Jamaica for Massachusetts. “Jamaica is rich in resources, but it doesn’t have the resources and the connections to get things done. This is where we came in.”

Guscott first traveled with a group of other Bostonians to the Jamaican parish of Manchester to help build wind farms. With a background in nuclear engineering, Guscott acted as a pro bono consultant on making the windmills a success.

The windmill project proved to be so successful that the group decided to form the Boston Diaspora Ventures two years later and work on more projects designed to benefit the whole island, including opportunities to utilize Jamaica’s vast agricultural resources.

Guscott said that while Jamaica’s abundance of natural resources give it the chance to compete in the global market, backlogged loans to financial institutions like World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have stifled the island’s economy.

Guscott’s group met with Jamaican officials about refurbishing a honey-processing factory that was already being run by an Argentine company. Since that company didn’t have anyone to run the factory, the Boston Diaspora group stepped in and hired its own crew, including Ivy Lawson, a Jamaican-born industrial engineer living in Boston, who was tapped to run the factory.

“[Lawson] moved down to Jamaica in January and she is working to bring the plant up to international standards for distribution,” Guscott said. “We hope to start selling honey in the United States and Europe around Thanksgiving.”

Nearly 100 bee farmers who are already part of the association will benefit from the partnership, according to Guscott. At first, however, some worried that an alliance with American business would create anxiety about possible exploitation of workers in the developing world by those in power in an industrialized country. To quell these fears, an agreement was reached that enables the association to earn 50 percent of revenues, while the Boston Diaspora group gets the other 50 percent. In addition, a school will be built to train bee farmers, who will be given a stipend upon graduation to start farming themselves.

Guscott hopes the bee farming project will help stimulate employment in Jamaica, where many areas are experiencing increased violence and crime due to a lack of stable employment for young people.

“This program will give opportunities to those youth,” he said. “I want to help them, just like people helped me when I was younger.”

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