NEGRIL, Westmoreland – The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has left Lascell Smith, one of western Jamaica’s significant players in the beekeeping industry, facing financial losses amounting to millions.
According to Smith, his company, Las-Bee Producers Limited, is owed millions of dollars by some hotels islandwide that have been shuttered as a result of the downturn in the tourism industry, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This, he said, has resulted in the inability of his company to service loans at financial institutions, and pay other creditors.
“The essence of business is that people owe you, you owe other people, and you are always expecting to collect, then to pay out. So, you will imagine that we have people to pay, and those people are looking for that as well. So, it has left me in a very sticky, sticky situation,” Smith told the Jamaica Observer West.
He said his registered tax-paying small business is badly in need of financial assistance, and as such, an application has been made to the Government for help under its small business care package.
“We need help because we still have operational expenses. We have expenses that we have to pay, one of the great challenges that I have is that most of the hotels that I do business with, they basically closed down with a significant amount of money owing to me, and I don’t know as to when I will be able to recover those funds,” he explained.
“We have to treat the bees and do everything that is necessary to keep the farm going, so we have to find some form of funding to fund that sort of activity.”
Las-Bee’s produce is sold under the brands Nature’s Gold and Natural Bee, which are also available islandwide in supermarkets, pharmacies, and at numerous gas stations.
Smith noted that while he has seen a 70 per cent reduction in revenue since the downturn in the tourism sector, “The good thing is that bee products are non-perishable.”
“So, in terms of the sales, there is a great fallout, in that regard, but luckily, we don’t have to dump any of our products because honey has shelf life,” he argued.
The pandemic has not only placed his company in the red, but has also forced it to put plans on hold to expand into the export market.
Las-Bee was selected last year by the Jamaica Promotions Corporation (Jampro) Export Max III programme, to participate in the export market, as of this September.
Jampro said Las-Bee Producers Limited was selected because the company exhibits strong export potential and demonstrates the capacity to undertake development and market penetration support to take full advantage of export opportunities.
“I was in the process of putting in all the necessary measures in place to do exporting. I was hoping to do that in the near future, but with this fallout now with revenue and everything, it is going to further push me back,” Smith bemoaned.
The company which started in Hanover 14 years ago, is now located on the West End Road in Negril, Westmoreland, employing 12 people up to mid-March.
The number has since been reduced to four, as the other members of staff have been laid off, as the company scales back on production.
Smith believes that the industry will take two to three years to recover.
“Our product is considered to be a luxury product. Comparing a bottle of honey to a pound of sugar, it is [a] luxury, even though it is healthy. Most persons would want to consume it, [but] it is a question of affordability, and in order for sales to pick up, we are going to have to wait on the hospitality industry to revive, and also for persons to regain employment, so that they can purchase the products,” Smith explained.
“So, it is going to take some time for the whole beekeeping industry to come back on its footing.”
In the meantime, Smith is predicting that there will be a glut on the market for honey in the very near future.
“We are going to have a glut on the market. Right now, I have gathered from some of my customers that the products are there on the shelves and are just not moving,” he lamented.
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