JIS News

The Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, through its Agricultural Support Services Project (ASSP) will be pumping some $75 million in three income generating projects this fiscal year, to benefit 97 farmers in three parishes.
Audrey Wright, Technical Officer for the project, tells JIS News that, “we selected a number of farmers, who will be involved in three projects at Amity Hall in St. Catherine, Ebony Park in Clarendon and Springfield in St. Thomas”.
About 32 farmers are expected to benefit from the Amity Hall project, she says, which will involve the planting of sweet potatoes, escallion and peppers on about 80 hectares (200 acres) of land. “The capital cost there is going to be in the region of $32 million,” Mrs. Wright informs.
In terms of the Ebony Park project, Mrs. Wright tells JIS News that 35 farmers have been selected to plant pumpkin, peppers, dasheen and sweet peppers on about 100 to 120 hectares (250 to 300 acres) at a cost of about $26.8 million, while in Springfield, 30 farmers will be involved in the cultivation of honey dew melons and cantaloupe, at just under $17 million in funding.
She informs that most of “our projects are very market-led as we do not encourage our farmers to go into production unless markets have been identified and contracts established with the buyer”.
She notes also that the farmers will be required to contribute to the projects as “every thing we do is on a cost-sharing basis”.
Instituted in 2001 through funding from the Inter-American Development Bank (IBD) and the government of Jamaica, the ASSP is designed to enhance the competitiveness of Jamaica’s agriculture.
“Its major aim is to also improve the incomes of the farmers with whom we are working and to bring about a general improvement in the agricultural sector. The project was created to enhance the services of the agencies that work in the agricultural sector specifically the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority,” Mrs. Wright says.
The project was originally estimated at US$31.5 million but was adjusted to US$25.4 million, with US$17.8 million from the IDB and US$7.6 million from the government of Jamaica.
According to Mrs. Wright, the ASSP was initially designed as a four-year project, however, “we have obtained an extension in the timeframe for implementation and the project will now end in February 2008”.
The ASSP has three components: strengthening the delivery of agricultural support services; strengthening and consolidating agricultural health and food safety services; and financing selected activities in high pay-off productive projects.
Services provided under the agricultural support services component include marketing and research and “we have been able to help a number of farmers to improve their knowledge on the market”, informs Mrs. Wright.
In addition, she notes, “we have provided funding for a study of the market for juices, and an important one has been the study developed for the ornamental fish industry, which can be made available to ornamental fish farmers or those who are interested in getting involved with that sector.”
In terms of strengthening agricultural health, Mrs. Wright says that Cabinet has approved the adoption of a food safety policy and the establishment of a food safety authority, to consolidate the services under by the Ministries of Agriculture and Lands; Health; and Industry, Technology, Energy and Commerce. “This will be more efficient in reducing the overlaps and will be of better service to the agro processors and farmers in general,” she indicates.
According to Mrs. Wright, “the aspect of food safety is very important to us as people need to eat safe food or to be sure that food is safe”.
She says that the systems in place for food safety will provide for the monitoring of pesticide use in terms of the recommended dosage and times that should elapse between application of the pesticide and harvesting, what is sprayed, when it is applied, and “really trace the food right through the system”.
She also points to “particular quality management system that deals with food safety called the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), and what that does is critically monitor the systems in the factories to ensure that the food that is produced by that factory is safe for consumption.”
She adds that all of this “is becoming a part of international regulations under the World Trade Organisation, so we have to be able to do this”.
As for financing selected projects, Mrs. Wright says the aim is to increase the competitiveness and profitability of agricultural producers and exporters by providing grants to establish high pay-off ventures that will create new opportunities in the non-traditional sub-sectors.
According to Mrs. Wright, the ASSP has achieved a number of milestones over the last five years including improvements in crop production.
“We have a number of projects that are producing sweet potatoes and we see where the production and productivity of sweet potato have increased dramatically over the last few months. For example, the yields of sweet potatoes have increased from the norm of 8,000 pounds per acre to 14 to 15,000 pounds per acre,” she says.
Through improved agronomic practices, including integrated pest management and drip irrigation systems, the cost of production has been reduced from $12 per pound to $8.40 per pound, she adds.
She further boasts of higher than average litter size and birth weight from the pig project at Bodles in St. Catherine and the development of two new varieties of high-yielding escallions. “We have increased productivity, with 32,000 pounds per acre from these new varieties and the new production practices, versus 10,000 to 15,000 pounds per acre, which the average escallion farmer gets,” informs Mrs. Wright.
In addition, she says, “we have facilitated the All Island Bee Farmers Association to set up a honey bottling plant based in Linstead and we have done a lot of training with the bee farmers and we have seen an increase in production.”
For the future, Mrs. Wright tells JIS News that there are plans to build on the successes of the ASSP.
“We are planning to strengthen that relationship with the exporters and the local market in general. We have approved 25 projects so far involving sheep, pigs and the crop production projects,” she informs.