Thu | Jul 18, 2024

Mavis Bank improving wastewater treatment while surfing for new coffee markets

Published:Wednesday | June 19, 2024 | 12:06 AM
Norman Grant, managing director of Mavis Bank Coffee Factory Limited.
Norman Grant, managing director of Mavis Bank Coffee Factory Limited.

Mavis Bank Coffee Factory, MBCF, will spend $100 million to improve wastewater treatment at the coffee processing plant as it seeks out new markets.

The company aims to recoup the investment in an upgraded treatment facility in five years by wooing environmentally conscious buyers of its beans in Europe.

“We are projecting a five-year payback, but we see that as a renewed commitment to quality control,” said MBCF Managing Director Norman Grant. The anticipated payback is expected to come from incremental growth in new markets.

“Jamaica recently started exporting coffee to Italy, joining Japan, the United States, Switzerland, China, and Belgium as major markets,” Grant said.

“We at the Mavis Bank Coffee Factory are staying ahead of the curve to ensure our operations meet global environmental standards and, as such, we are prioritising sustainability to drive export growth and increase profitability,” he added.

Grant said the coffee factory, based in the hills of St Andrew, has secured the necessary licences from the National Environment and Planning Agency, NEPA, for the waste treatment project. NEPA will also supervise the plant upgrade, while the Scientific Research Council, SRC, will offer support as technical adviser and programme implementer.

The facility will operate under a new licence that runs from 2024 to 2029.

“The factory intends to conduct detailed testing of the system between October 2024 and April 2025, submitting monthly monitoring reports and samples to NEPA. Any required adjustments will be made in collaboration with NEPA and the SRC,” Grant said.

Currently, the plant treats solid waste by removing bacteria and then offering it to farmers as fertiliser; the liquid waste, or effluent, is processed using an anaerobic treatment system.

“That system is currently being expanded to include a reed bed, a chlorination chamber, and a soak-away chamber to ensure that the effluent meets the required standard outlined by NEPA,” Grant said.

The current treatment plant was built in 2014. At the time, NEPA welcomed it as a means of reducing waste and effluent in the nearby river. A decade ago, Grant was “ashamed to say that effluent and other hazardous materials were going into the river”, according to a Gleaner report, which quoted the coffee executive at the time.

Last year, however, Mavis Bank was reportedly cited by NEPA for overflowing effluent.

Mavis Bank is Jamaica’s second-largest coffee exporter, behind Coffee Traders Limited. The coffee sector generated about US$26 million in exports in 2022, up from about US$22 million the previous year. Coffee exports are still on par with earnings from the late 1990s, but storm damage, cost of cultivation, farm theft, and other factors have prevented the sector from reaching full production. There are thousands of coffee farmers and eight licensed coffee dealers in Jamaica, according to commodities regulator JACRA. Other entities hold coffee licensing issued by the JACRA – short for Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority – but for separate services.

Despite the challenges, the brand still fetches a premium due to its cupping quality. A good cup offers a taste profile that implies chocolate, fruit and spice, which few competitors can match in complexity. This allows the Jamaican brand to garner a price point among the most expensive in the world.