When David Stedeford, a UK-born paper-manufacturer vacationed with his family in Jamaica several years ago, his expert eye quickly noticed the agricultural potential of the land he saw. Little did he know that this recreational trip would later lead him to conceptualize a new manufacturing facility, with the capacity to produce 250,000 metric tonnes of bamboo pulp annually— by the end of 2021, Stedeford’s company, Bamboo Bioproducts Ltd. (BBP) will break ground on the first Bamboo Pulp mill in the Western Hemisphere.
The new BBP facility will occupy the lands of the once famous Frome Sugar Plantation in Jamaica’s parish of Westmoreland with pulp that is slated for sale to celebrated multinational brands, which have partnered with the manufacturer in order to meet the industry mandate for ‘non-wood pulp fiber’ in the production of personal hygiene and tissue products using Bambusa vulgaris or common bamboo, an open-clump type bamboo species, which is endemic to Jamaica and the preferred species for pulp production.
Following the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling in the 1990’s that preferential agreements between the island territories and the European Union contravened free trade principles, which virtually wiped out the Caribbean’s agricultural export market causing the once-booming sugar industry to be left for dead, all economic eggs were thrown into the single basket of tourism, which has now been derailed by COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Jamaica’s tourism sector, accounting for approximately 35% of GDP, reported an annual loss of $76 billion in 2020 due to the pandemic but government has become deeply intent on proving that it has not lost the race, but instead is switching into a higher gear, as it soars toward a diversified, stable economy.
“Jamaica has seen the potential impact that bamboo can have for its long-term economic growth,” says British High Commissioner to Jamaica, Asif Ahmad Growing. “Processing bamboo pulp for export is a solid step in moving the island forward. Export-led growth is essential for any developing country and in this case, there is strong demand from various industries for bamboo-based pulp.”
Jamaica has exercised leadership, leveraging global partnerships to diversify its agro-industry, making itself more resilient while earning foreign exchange. Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness, believes the project is a step in the right direction towards greater growth opportunities for his people. The project is projected to create up to 5,500 jobs and earn $1.5 billion in revenues within its first 10 years.
“We are actively setting a new and positive trajectory for our development. That means being strategic in how we rethink avenues for growth, and aiming for opportunities which are rooted in sustainable industries,” says Holness.
“Introducing a new bamboo industry allows us to build on centuries of agricultural expertise, and to maximize the earning potential of existing resources. A shift [from sugar cane] to bamboo would see us re-purposing our sugarcane lands to grow alternative crops with major international demand. This is an excellent example of a revenue solution that builds value, is environmentally responsible, and immediately creates much needed jobs. There is also an added capacity for spawning additional industries from its bi-products, so Jamaica may realize the benefits of long-term industry expansion.”
Stedeford agrees that the timing of the project is opportune, explaining that “The cultivation and processing of bamboo pulp is a logical alternative to sugar cane, due to similarities between the species.”
“Jamaica’s centuries of tradition in sugar farming means that workers with existing labor skillsets will be offered sustainable jobs in a sustainable industry. Extensive rain-irrigated arable lands will be transformed into bamboo farms across Jamaica to supply the state-of-the-art Bamboo Market Pulp Mill, and support its full design capacity.”
With the high demand for bamboo pulp, BBP is working in close partnership with the Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ) Holdings Limited to finalise the acquisition and/or leasing of the necessary lands. The manufacturer is also in conversations with private landowners to secure supplementary farms.
The BBP execution team is comprised of a network of global paper manufacturing experts alongside Kingston-based Delta Capital Partners Ltd. (DeltaCap), a private equity firm which also provides management consulting support for the project. As lead financial arranger DeltaCap has facilitated local relationships for BBP and is actively advancing with the initial USD$300M capital raise, which is projected to generate an ROI of ~22%.
Zachary Harding, co-founder and CEO of DeltaCap, says that the project is one of many which will expose global stakeholders to game-changing investments in the Caribbean market. Harding has put his money where his mouth is, indicating that DeltaCap will be investing and taking an equity stake in the project.
“DeltaCap is genuinely proud of this raise as it is a fully sustainable project which is environmentally responsible while delivering long-term economic benefits,” says Harding.
“This Bamboo project checks all the boxes— it improves the quality of life for many people, removes carbon emissions from the air, and delivers risk-adjusted profits. The plant will be co-gen, using bamboo bi-products to fuel the mill. The excess energy generated can be sold back to the national power grid. Everything about this project will be green.”
Jamaican farmers will be the first to reap the benefits of Caribbean bamboo. Today, farmland in most of the English-speaking Caribbean ranges from 10-33% of land use. Jamaica surpasses this average with 41% of its 10,991 square kilometers set aside for agriculture. The target yield of raw bamboo of over 1 million tonnes annually will ensure high productivity of bamboo land.
Floyd Green, Jamaica’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries predicts that the project will have a deep impact on the lives of farmers across the entire country.
“In our present economic reality, countries have to pivot to effectively rebuild their economies,” says Minister Green.
“For us, bamboo cultivation and processing presents a competitive advantage. The BBP plant will be located in the West of the island and will actualize the ‘mother-farm’ concept by offering contracts for supplementary amounts of bamboo to smaller farms across the rest of the island. For thousands of farmers this means guaranteed sales and a steady income. For Jamaican farmers, growing bamboo means that they can now have a real shot at changing their lives, just by doing what they already do best.”
David Stedeford is confident that by the end of 2021, Jamaica will be well on its way to hosting the first sustainable bamboo industry in the region.
“Jamaica has the land, labor, logistics and climate to be the first Bamboo Market Pulp Mill in the West, delivering non-wood fibres globally, helping to meet the environmental sustainability mandate of the personal hygiene industry.”