When, late in March, the authorities ordered the closure or curtailment of a range of business houses including vending in and around Bourda Market, Cordel Jones, a young one-time journalist, farmer and Bourda Market vegetable vendor, spotted an opportunity to sustain his own business which he thought he could exploit.
His line of reasoning was that the confines which the municipality had placed on trading in and around the municipal markets were unlikely to curtail the consumer demand for fruit and vegetables. If he could devise a system by which he could deliver those items directly to consumers he could get around the constraints placed on conventional vending in the market.
Setting aside what he saw as the creation of a service that could go some way towards ‘getting around’ social distancing, the creation of a home delivery service could even survive and grow beyond the current coronavirus regime and even help change the way people purchase some of their essentials. Most importantly, he reasoned, it could help build his own business which he had christened “I Cultivate”
The possibility of vending on the streets appeared to have returned after the Mayor and City Council announced that in order to compensate for the closure of the markets and reduced substantive trading hours, fruit and vegetable vendors, wholesalers and retailers alike, would be permitted to trade in areas aback of the Guyana Fire Service building as well as the Merriman Mall between Orange Walk and Light Street, between the hours of 7:00 hrs and 13:00 hrs. Jones quickly discovered, however, that, for wholesalers, trading beside retailers meant that they were on a hiding to nowhere. It was at that juncture that he decided that his best option was to refashion his business to facilitate delivery directly to people’s homes.
Prior to venturing into farming on part of a 100-acre plot of land at Dalgin which he had inherited from his mother and aunt, both now deceased, Cordel had worked for eight years in the media and had come to appreciate the ‘power’ of social media. It was on social media that he launched his marketing blitz, promoting his Home Delivery Service on his Facebook page. Very quickly he was responding to 35 routine requests and approximately 60 enquiries. That, he says, heralded the birth of the delivery service which he now operates.
Not that his own farming pursuits were proceeding altogether smoothly. He found his efforts to grow food were continually frustrated by voracious armies of leaf-cutting ants that seriously compromised his farm produce production level. Although not giving up on eventually winning that battle, these days he has resorted to securing some of his supplies from other farmers. Over time, he has established reliable relationships with farmers from Berbice, Parika Backdam, West Watooka and the Linden-Soesdyke highway. They supply him with a range of cash crops including seasonings, plantains and ground provision.
Just six weeks after commencing his home delivery service Cordel has acquired more than fifty customers. His clientele includes customers from communities between Diamond on the East Bank of Demerara to Enmore on the East Coast of Demerara on this side of the Demerara River to Pouderoyen on the West Bank, Linden and Lethem.
The ordering and delivery system relies on voice calls or WhatsApp and the information provided includes customers’ telephone numbers and addresses. Deliveries are done on Wednesdays and Saturdays and there is a delivery fee of five hundred dollars.
Jones is of the view that good customer service goes a long way towards client retention. Consequently he offers regular promotions over limited periods which approach he says, has been a considerable success.
His service is supported by a delivery truck and two ‘support staff’… a clerk whose job it is to receive and process orders, and a packer. Jones has overall responsibility for ensuring that orders are delivered.
In the course of a telephone interview, Jones told the Stabroek Business that his own acute awareness of the challenges posed by the advent of the coronavirus has made him ultra-sensitive to the desirability of ‘living within the rules.’ I Cultivate’s operating procedures include strict and routinized sanitation procedures that impact workers and produce alike. Packaging too is sanitized before the produce is ‘ready for the road.’
The service, he says, has also had to respond to some of the social distancing regimens put in place by his customers, one of whom insists that the packages of produce be deposited over the gate and onto the premises. Payment is made via a sealed envelope attached to the end of a stick and extended over the gate where the delivery operative can retrieve it.
Building his delivery business aside, Jones says that much of his focus is on reviving the fortunes of his farm at Dalgin. He pays tribute to his aunt, former Human Resources Management Consultant and Commissioner at the Guyana Elections Commission, Sandra Jones, who died in November 2017.
At this time, the farm at Dalgin produces pak choi, calaloo, wiri wiri pepper and ochro. More recently, he had ‘put down’ two hundred each of coconut, lemon and lime trees and one hundred each of papaw, soursop and cherry trees.
Having seemingly now set a course towards successful entrepreneurship Jones says that he remains undaunted by the challenges associated with recruiting committed workers. The, ants, too remain ‘a mountain to climb.’
His expansion plans are also inhibited by his present financial limitations, though, that too, he is treating as a hurdle to climb rather than an immovable stumbling block.
Jones believes that the level of dependence on farming as a money-earner across the country ought to be backed by greater levels of support from state institutions responsible for agriculture. Sugar and rice, he believes, benefit from disproportionate official attention. Particularly, he believes that local institutions responsible for training in agriculture ought to be more supportive of farmers at an ‘on-farm’ level where drainage and irrigation, pests and diseases, wild animals and the condition of farm to market roads are among the real challenges that inhibit the continued expansion of the sector.
Beyond infrastructure associated with agricultural production Jones believes that our municipal markets ought to be rendered both vendor and shopper-friendly. He notes that it took the advent of the Coronavirus to have the markets cleared and sanitized, adding that the onset of the coronavirus and the challenges that it poses ought to serve as a lesson to the authorities.