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Approximately $1.1 billion is expected to flow to farmers before the end of this fiscal year, as a result of activities on the first five of nine proposed Agro Parks to be established across the island.

This will also result in direct employment for 1,500 persons, with an additional 2,500 receiving part time jobs.

This was disclosed by Minister of Finance and Planning, Dr. the Hon. Peter Phillips, as he opened the 2013/14 Budget Debate in the House of Representatives on April 18, under the theme: ‘Restoring Hope…Expanding Opportunity’.

Dr. Phillips informed that before the end of this fiscal year, work will begin on an additional two parks located at Meylersfield in Westmoreland and Ettingdon in Trelawny.

This will make five, the number of parks, on which work has started, counting those at Amity Hall in St. Catherine and Ebony Park in Clarendon, which were brought into production last year. The park at Plantain Garden River is also being prepared for onion production.

The nine Agro Parks, which are to be implemented over the next three years at a cost of US$8 million, will assist in the creation of employment, increase agricultural output, reduce the national food import bill and stimulate food exports.

The proposed parks are being funded in part by the European Union and are being developed jointly with the Agro Investment Corporation and the National Irrigation Commission providing infrastructural development and irrigation facilities, respectively.

“These Agro Parks are being developed jointly using public/private initiative, involving both large and small farmers. We are ensuring that all aspects of the value chain are being covered from germination to processing to marketing; and will, in many instances, involve the ‘mother farm satellite’ method of production,” the Minister informed.

In the meantime, Dr. Phillips informed that a few of the crops being contemplated for production include some 1,700 acres of sorghum to reduce grain imports for animal feed, which is currently underway.

“The planned initial rotation of 500 acres of sorghum with red peas by August/September will see a reduction in red peas imports by 33 per cent,” he said.

Additionally, some 689 acres of onions will be planted shortly, reducing the import bill for onions by about 45 per cent, while 550 acres of vegetables, legumes, condiments and tubers will be cultivated.

“There is also a major expansion of cassava production underway to provide raw materials for the beer industry,” Dr. Phillips informed.

By Athaliah Reynolds-Baker, JIS Reporter