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Lawrence Nicholson Business voices from Coronation Market

Family-owned businesses, FOBs, are present in most sectors in Jamaica, including the retail and wholesale, agriculture, entertainment and tourism sectors.

The agriculture sector has a high representation of family in business and FOBs, and unfortunately, for many, not considered to be part of mainstream businesses that require the same analysis as other businesses.

In an assessment of development of business enterprises in the post emancipation period, one leading financier stated that most of the former slaves lacked education and skills to start their own businesses, and credited the origins of business enterprise in Jamaica to the presence of Jews. This ignores a significant genesis of entrepreneurship in the Caribbean.

Pausing to listen to the voices from Coronation Market, a major hub for FOBs in the agriculture sector, should prove to be value-added to government, major actors in the private sector, and patrons.

Recent statistics show that the agriculture sector contributes about 8.3 per cent to Jamaica’s GDP. This level of contribution is significant, especially when viewed in the context of the linkages with the tourism sector, which contributes about 20 per cent to GDP.

However, the feedback and complaints from many in this sector is that while those in the tourism sector are ‘feeling the love’, not enough love has been extended to them. Part of the representation of the agriculture sector is in the farmers’ markets across Jamaica, with the Coronation Market in Kingston considered to be the ‘mother’ of them all.

Farmers’ markets represent an important part of the genesis of FOBs in the Caribbean.

This was the hub of activity for the enslaved during the period of slavery. Small plots of land given to slaves – including to entire families – were used for farming from as early as 1700. The men cultivated the land, the women and children helped to gather the produce, and the women sold the surplus in the market.

Agriculture has therefore been part of the bedrock of activities that involved entire families in the entrepreneurial landscape in the Caribbean, including Jamaica.

Unfortunately, some in the financial sector have not always been quick to list agriculture among ‘entrepreneurial activities, which has had a negative impact on the willingness of some financial institutions to offer support, such as granting loans.

Given my antecedent of living in a farming community, my deep-seated belief in the sustainability of FOBs and my undying love for the market, it should therefore not be a surprise that my trek to the Coronation Market, usually every other week, translates to 20-30 minutes of conversation with vendors, many of whom are farmers.

Some takeaways from these conversations, representing the voices of the vendors and farmers, tell a story.

Many stalls in the market have more than one generation, with few having up to three generations. This translates to succession planning and transition from generation to generation, as a natural outflow from how vendors and farmers organise and operate businesses.

Many other family businesses can learn from these vendors and farmers.

Many survive and continue to go to the market each week, keeping their heads above water through hard work, sacrifice and just a love for farming. Many of them live on the margins and are ‘crying out for help’ from government and other agencies.

Part of the complaints is that they are not seen as “legitimate entrepreneurs”, as reflected in the ‘dirty” condition of the market and the piling up of garbage in some sections, being forced to sleep “under the night dew” to protect their produce, usually between Thursday night and Saturday morning, and having to navigate pools of dirty water when it rains.

There are the complaints that the conditions under which they have to ply their goods at times are compounded by the unforgiving approach of those who collect market fees. The following comments are commonplace:

“Wha’ me a pay market fee fah?”

“How yu expect me fi pay market fee when me not even have propa place to pee pee in this section a di market?”

“Govament mus do betta, because many a dem family a farmer, and even use to sell in di market”

“This is our business, which is used to send our children to school and take care of our family. We need more decent treatment.”

Many patrons have mistakenly used the choice of vendors and farmers to communicate in the vernacular as a measure of their level of educational attainment, or even their understanding of subject areas such as economics and mathematics.

This is unfortunate, and seen as disrespectful, and while they agree that this impression of vendors and farmers represents a small percentage of the patrons, they would like this to be non-existent.

The vendors and farmers have also made the following recommendations:

o Provision of more bathroom facilities in other sections of the market;

o Provide more security in the market, so they don’t have to sleep with “one eye open”;

o Construction of suitable accommodation where vendors and farmers who are not living in Kingston can stay overnight. This will allow them to get a bath, and sleep in a bed, instead under the “night dew”;

o Provide covering for more sections of the market;

o Do more to keep the market clean; and

o Treat vendors and farmers in the same way you treat hoteliers and other business people.

Let’s listen and respond to the voices of those who help to feed us. Family-owned businesses come in different forms, and farmers’ market are the hub for many of the exemplary ones. Let’s listen and learn.

More anon!

Lawrence Nicholson, PhD, is a senior lecturer at the Mona School of Business & Management, University of the West Indies, author of Understanding the Caribbean Enterprise: Insights from MSMEs and Family-Owned Businesses and a director of the RJRGLEANER Communications Group.Email:

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