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Some 65 farmers from the parishes of Clarendon and St. Mary were presented with certificates on January 29, following their completion of the Jamaica Rural Economy and Ecosystems Adapting to Climate Change (Ja. REEACH) Cocoa Farmer Field School (FSS).

The cocoa farmers – 16 from Bellefield in St. Mary and 49 from Brandon Hill, Wood Hall, and Park Hall in Clarendon – join 500 farmers from across the island, in completing the six-month training course.

Participants were trained in areas such as: cocoa crop husbandry, propagation methodologies, post-harvest handling and business management.

The programme was jointly implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).

Speaking at the graduation ceremony, held at the Bridge Palm Hotel in Clarendon, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, congratulated the farmers on their achievement.

“I want to congratulate all of you who have stayed the course, because you are about lifting production and productivity in the cocoa industry,” he said.

The Minister also charged the graduates to share the knowledge and skills that they have learned through the programme with the wider community, in an effort to ensure sustainability.

“When USAID is not around anymore, I want to see our cocoa production keep moving up,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mission Director, USAID, Denise Herbol, said the Ja REEACH and FSS project, implemented under the USAID’s non-profit organisation, the Agricultural Co-operative Development International/Volunteers in Overseas Co-operative Assistance (ACDI/VOCA), has been a great success in Jamaica.

Miss Herbol said the project pioneered the expanded use of the Farmer Field School methodology to enhance farmer knowledge and best-practice adoption in Jamaica, with emphasis on demonstrations in solving problems with the growing cycle of field crops.

She noted that since its inception in 2010, the Ja REEACH project and the FSS has been instrumental in facilitating production, productivity and quality improvements for Jamaica’s onions, scotch bonnet peppers, and cocoa crops.

“Today USAID has funded activities across 50 onion, pepper and cocoa farm field schools,” she noted.

The project also provided training for over 500 cocoa farmers and cocoa post-harvest operators in the major cocoa growing areas of Jamaica.

Miss Herbol also said that under the cocoa FSS, so far, over 400 acres of cocoa have been rehabilitated; neglected orchards have been pruned and field density corrected; non-chemical interventions have been implemented to control pest disease, and climate change adaptation measures have been deployed.

“Even more importantly, the Cocoa Farm Field Schools have re-energised several communities and sparked interest in the cocoa industry,” she said.

Responding on behalf of the graduates, Clarendon cocoa farmer, Victor Russell, said he has gained tremendously from the course.

“We have been re-energised and lifted to a different level. We have learned how to better care for our crops and to increase the quality and quantity of cocoa,” he said.

He charged his fellow graduates to, “waste not this knowledge, but to use it wisely to better our lives, our families and our nation.”

Activities under the Ja REEACH project are designed to assist Jamaica’s agricultural sector to become a more market-driven, profitable, and competitive industry, contributing significantly to economic and social growth in rural communities.

The project also aims to respond to the impacts of global climate change on Jamaica’s natural resources, lives and livelihoods by equipping local farmers with skills and knowledge necessary to counter the effects of climate change on their crops.