Grass root farming is a must for well-known businessman

MAHENDRA Mookram, better known as “Uncle Joe”, is a simple man who goes around feeding stray cats, a habit he picked up while visiting his farms in the Essequibo River.

At his home, it is no different every morning. At the crack of dawn, about six stray cats would be waiting for him to be fed, and he would before he starts his day.

Mookram is the co-owner of M&M Snackette, and has been farming for a long time in his home village of Canal #1, West Bank Demerara. He later relocated his farming to Baboon Hole Island and Whitputush Island, on the Essequibo River.

The businessman and farmer told the Pepperpot Magazine that he started farming because of ‘supply and demand’ issues, and to provide wholesome, organic foods at his six restaurants nationwide.

Mookram explained that he has adopted the back-forward integration process at his farm at Whitputush Island, where he has a coconut estate and fruit cultivation.

At Baboon Hole Island, also known as Bonasika Main, he has a dairy farm, along with some sheep, and he used to have ducks, but his stock has to be replenished, since he uses about three sheep per week and about 20 ducks for the week.

Mookram added that he had a farm of more than 300 ducks, and he is hoping to achieve that once again to keep his supply and demand in order.

The businessman stated that he produces a lot of fresh cow’s milk, but his problem is the transportation of the milk. As such, he hopes the Del Cante Road, which will run from Parika to Goshen, will provide relief for riverine farmers, and add to the “Farm to Market” concept.

“As is, there is nothing I can do with the cow’s milk now, but with cheap energy, I can process it to produce milk-based products rather than just using it for the food business alone,” he said.

He added that they are sourcing solar lights for Whitputush Island, and soon he can buy milk from the locals in the riverine communities to make ice cream and milk punch, among other things, for his snackettes.

Mookram reported that he is trying to improve the breed of his cows, and has sold off most of his herd, leaving only 35.

He stated that he will upgrade the mud pen to a concrete structure for better accommodation for the cows, and aims to rear 200 cows.

The businessman added that he also plans to cultivate his own feeding grass for the cows, and is looking at two varieties, including antelope and giant king grass.

Mookram reported that he has a quarter acre of antelope grass, and believes he can multiply from that in the near future.

Meanwhile, on Baboon Hole Island, he has crops of vegetables, fruits and coconuts, and he has separated his livestock from his crops and at times, a cow or two would get away and eat all the bora.

Mookram disclosed that due to the economic change, he is concentrating on large-scale farming to be competitive, but the rains have taken a toll on the crops for the past three years straight.

He revealed that they have seen better weather for the past three months, and the cultivation has recovered somewhat.

The businessman added that he is seeking the assistance of the NDIA to have a sea dam and some internal drains for his farms, at both Whitputush and Baboon Hole Islands.

Mookram reported that as is, he needs support for drainage and irrigation works to be implemented on his farms.

He disclosed that the government assisted him with the construction of two self-draining kokers and fertilisers at his farm at Whitputush Island, Essequibo River.

He envisions a phased development concept, from farm to table in three forms, which are to be prepared in raw form, looks at pre-cooking foods for three to five minutes, and when energy is affordable, he will seek to go into frozen foods production.

Mookram reported that he is rearing some black giant chickens in Canal #1 Polder, and he has some that have grown to 18 pounds per bird.

The businessman added that he was motivated into food security via farming due to supply, demand and pricing. He is looking at providing 80 per cent of the foods he needs for his business, including fruit juices.

Mookram and his brother co-own the six M&M Snackettes at Diamond, Grove, Peter’s Hall, Houston, Pouderoyen and Pritipaul Singh Investment (PSI).

He explained that the family-owned business started more than 30 years ago from a push-cart small business.

The businessman told the Pepperpot Magazine that with the six snackettes, he provides direct employment for 98 persons, including Amerindians from Region One (Barima-Waini), and he also provides housing and training.

Mookram noted that in the farming aspect, he has six full-time staffers, and when he has a harvest, he would employ an additional 12 persons on the two farms for reaping and land preparation.

He stated that he takes care of his staff, and one of them, who came from Region One, has been with him for the past 15 years, and is in training to take his place in the business.

Mookram is also looking to create a heritage site more like an eco-lodge with a farm-to-harvest nature tour with a fruit/coconut estate walk for overnight visitors on Fort Island.

He is willing to partner with the current administration to make the project a reality.

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