- A major area of focus for the Government throughout the year was reducing the country’s food importation bill from US$1 billion to US$700 million.
- Key among these strategies was the targeted cultivation of 8,000 acres of idle Government land under the flagship Agro Parks initiative.
- As the Government intensified efforts to get Jamaicans to eat more locally produced food, November was designated ‘Eat Jamaican Month’.
The agricultural sector continued to perform well during the year, rebounding from the adverse effects of weather-related and other factors, to record growth for the third quarter of the year.
The Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) reported in November that agriculture, forestry and fishing, mining and quarrying; and construction, topped the industries recording growth during the July to September quarter of the 2013/14 fiscal year, which grew by 0.6 per cent.
A major area of focus for the Government throughout the year, as it sought to maintain the gains made in the agricultural sector, was reducing the country’s food importation bill from US$1 billion to US$700 million in the short to medium-term.
Key among these strategies was the targeted cultivation of 8,000 acres of idle Government land under the flagship Agro Parks initiative.
Through a tri-partite partnership involving the Government, farmer/investors, and the private sector, a total of nine agro parks are being established across the island, which are projected to realize foreign exchange savings of some $4 billion, provide employment for about 5,000 persons, increase agricultural output and reduce the importation of targeted crops.
Onion, escallion, pepper, assorted fruits and vegetables yam, ginger, hay, sorghum and other crops are now in full production at Plantain Gardens in St. Thomas, Amity Hall in St Catherine, and Ebony Park in Clarendon.
The other agro parks are being developed in Yallahs, St. Thomas; Hill Run, St. Catherine; Spring Plain in Clarendon; New Forest/Duff House, St. Elizabeth/Manchester; Ettingdon, Trelawny; and Meylersfield in Westmoreland.
Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, in October, reported that the project is going well with crops already reaped at the three facilities in operation and replanting underway.
At Amity Hall, nearly 150 acres of sorghum have been planted as a replacement for some of the imported animal feed and another 400 acres is being prepared. Minister Clarke said that through sorghum production “what we have been able to do is put a dent in our import as far as animal feeds is concerned.”
He informed that work had been completed on irrigation systems for two agro parks in Yallahs and Ebony Park, while the design work had been completed for the installation of an irrigation system at Spring Plain.
IRISH POTATO PROGRAMME LAUNCHED
Another of the strategies the Government employed to reduce the country’s high food import bill during the year, involved efforts to increase the production and consumption of local crops.
In October, the Ministry, in collaboration with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), launched the Irish Potato Programme for the crop year 2013/14.
The proposed production target is 600 hectares for autumn; 600 hectares for spring; and 50 hectares for summer. In order to achieve this, the Ministry will be providing support in the sum of $68 million towards the autumn and spring crops.
Minister Clarke said the programme aims to: improve access to markets for farmers, who plant Irish potato; supply 100 per cent of the national demand (15 million kilograms) of table Irish potato by 2015, in keeping with the RADA marketing plan; and provide crop care support (chemicals) for 50 per cent of the targeted acreages for fall and spring.
The initiative also seeks to introduce and pilot the use of new potato varieties for the production of fries. Two hectares of potato, specifically for this purpose, will be grown and processed during the 2013/14 season.
EAT JAMAICAN MONTH
As the Government intensified efforts to get Jamaicans to eat more locally produced food, November was designated ‘Eat Jamaican Month’.
The month-long series of events and public awareness campaign coincided with the 10th Anniversary of the ‘Eat What We Grow…Grow What We Eat’ campaign, which was launched in 2003 by the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS).
Another priority area for the administration, throughout the year, was the issue of food safety, with several measures being put in place to ensure that sufficient quantities of safe food are available and that Jamaica meets global food safety requirements.
In July, nine agro-exporters received approximately $10 million in grants from the Government to assist in efforts to upgrade their facilities, in order to become compliant with the United States Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
The FSMA requires the implementation of more stringent food safety control systems by foreign suppliers of food to the United States. A total of 50 key stakeholders within the agricultural sector benefited from a training initiative in February.
Further, in keeping with food security efforts, Minister Clarke announced during the year that the Government had approved the Jamaican Food and Nutrition Security Policy, which seeks to ensure the availability of a sufficient quantity of nutritious and appropriate foods, through increased domestic production and a sustainable level of imports.
FARMERS GET ASSISTANCE
The nation’s farmers, throughout the year, continued to benefit from various capacity building interventions of the Government, particularly in light of the damage caused to farms following the passage of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Some 40,000 farmers island-wide were affected by the hurricane with losses amounting to more than $4 billion. The worst hit parishes were St. Thomas, Portland, and St. Mary, with crops such as banana, cocoa, and coffee being most affected.
In January, plantain and banana farmers in St. Mary, Portland and St. Thomas, benefited from the provision of fertilizer and insecticide, under the European Union Banana Support Programme (EUBSP), valued at $13.5 million. The provision was to benefit approximately 1,000 individuals.
Later in the year, another 1,400 banana and plantain farmers as well as other sector interests, stood to benefit from a $660 million (€4.73 million) European Union (EU)-funded Banana Accompanying Measures (BAM) special assistance programme, over the next four years. Contracts for the provision were signed in November.
Also, in May, the Ministry signed an agreement to provide $30 million in grant funding to 50 farmers in the communities of Leith Hall, and 900 in Font Hill, both in St. Thomas; as well as 50 farmers in Reach District, Portland.
This group comprised vulnerable subsistence farmers, who were most severely affected by the passage of Hurricane Sandy.
Under the initiative funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and implemented by RADA, the farmers will receive vouchers to purchase critical agricultural inputs, and also benefit from training to boost their resilience to natural disasters.
Also, during the year, another 40 small farmers in St. Mary and St. Thomas benefited from a $30 million EU funded Economic Diversification Programme.
The farmers, were provided with the necessary materials, training, and technical support to enable their engagement in alternative agricultural activities. The initiative focused on the cultivation of scotch bonnet pepper, goat rearing and honey production.
Earlier in the year, some 65 cocoa farmers in Clarendon and St. Mary benefited from a six-month training course – the Jamaica Rural Economy and Ecosystems Adapting to Climate Change (Ja REEACH) Cocoa Farmer Field School (FSS).
Some 500 farmers from across the island have been trained in areas such as: cocoa crop husbandry, propagation methodologies, post-harvest handling and business management.
SUGAR WORKERS BENEFIT FROM HOUSING SOLUTIONS
Also, during the year, the Government made provisions to resettle some 876 residents of sugar estate barracks for the 2013 period to the end of calendar year 2014. This is being facilitated through the construction of approximately 400 housing solutions at seven sites located across four sugarcane growing parishes, at an estimated cost of about $1.9 billion.
The project is to benefit sugar workers and their relatives who have been living in Old Sugar Barracks located in Sugar Dependent areas of Westmoreland, Trelawny, Clarendon, and St. Thomas.
Work is near completion at three of the seven sites. The other four are in advanced infrastructure stages.
REVITALISING THE SUGAR INDUSTRY
It was also announced during the year that the Ministry had embarked on a massive cane planting and replanting exercise to expand local sugar cane production to some 1.4 million tonnes by 2018. This is being undertaken through the Cane Expansion Fund, which forms part of Government’s efforts to revitalise the sugar cane industry.
The objective is to significantly increase sugar cane yield from the current 574,000 tonnes over the next five years.
The Cane Expansion Fund is expected to provide an estimated $3 billion on a revolving basis over the next four to five years to plant and replant cane, provide land preparation and harvesting equipment, and support the installation of sub-surface drip irrigation in Clarendon and St. Catherine. Already, the Ministry has injected a total of $1.77 billion into the Fund.
In order to provide even greater incentive for cane expansion, the Government as of July 8, increased the loan rates for cane planting and replanting from $200,000 per hectare to $250,000 per hectare for irrigated areas, and from $190,000 per hectare to $220,000 per hectare for non-irrigation areas.
REHABILITATION OF CANE ROADS
Also, during September, eight contracts totaling just over $404 million were signed for the rehabilitation of more than 44 kilometres of cane roads in seven sugar-dependent communities across the island.
Minister Clarke said the project is aimed at improving efficiency in the transportation of sugar cane from farm to factory, and forms part of the Government’s overall strategy to support the recovery of the industry.
The road works, which will be undertaken in the parishes of St. Catherine, Westmoreland, St. Thomas, Clarendon, and Trelawny, come under the Cane Roads Rehabilitation Project in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
Another boost to the agricultural sector came in February, when the Government announced a $45 million crop production programme as part of its drought mitigation initiative for the sector.
Minister Clarke said the programme will provide for the establishment of 645 hectares of select crops in 13 parishes to counter any shortfall in cash crops resulting from the severe dry conditions affecting the island.
MOTOR VEHICLE AND EQUIPMENT
The Government’s effort to enhance Jamaica’s agricultural competitiveness was significantly boosted with the acquisition of motor vehicles and equipment by the Ministry in May, valued at approximately $20 million.
The items, inclusive of five Volkswagen Amarok pick-up trucks, 15 post harvest kits, and eight computers, were acquired under the US$15 million Agricultural Competitiveness Programme (ACP), funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Entities benefitting from the acquisition included RADA, the Plant Quarantine, and Veterinary Service Divisions.
Throughout the year, the operations of RADA were further enhanced through the acquisition of tablet computers and computer applications valued at $11.1 million.
Some 98 Extension Officers, 14 Livestock Officers and 16 Marketing Officers received the tablets that are intended to assist them with faster and more efficient collection and reporting of data while they are in the field.
Further, in keeping with commitment to advance the development of a modern and efficient agricultural sector, Minister Clarke, in July, signed a contract and broke ground for the construction of a new parish office for RADA in Hague, Trelawny.
The $69 million project entails the construction of a two-storey reinforced concrete building at the Hague Showground, which will house some 22 RADA staff and other government agencies.