- The Government’s flagship agro parks initiative is yielding success, having realized $36.3 million in earnings and employing more than 1,000 persons.
- Scheduled for completion in 2015, the project aims to modernize Jamaica’s agricultural sector.
- It is projected to realize foreign exchange savings of some $4 billion, and provide employment for about 5,000 persons, when fully implemented.
Two years into its implementation, the Government’s flagship agro parks initiative is yielding success, having realized $36.3 million in earnings and employing more than 1,000 persons.
Scheduled for completion in 2015, the project aims to modernize Jamaica’s agricultural sector; contribute to reducing the island’s almost US$1 billion food import bill; while increasing exports and creating jobs.
It is projected to realize foreign exchange savings of some $4 billion, and provide employment for about 5,000 persons, when fully implemented.
Under the initiative, which is a partnership involving the Government, farmers/investors, and the private sector, a total of nine agro parks are being established across the island.
Currently, 1,000 of the 8,000 acres of prime land targeted, are under production in a total of seven agro parks. Onion, escallion, pepper, assorted fruits and vegetables, yam, ginger, hay, sorghum and other crops have been in production at Plantain Garden River in St. Thomas, Amity Hall in St. Catherine, and Ebony Park in Clarendon, since financial year 2012/13.
An additional four parks came on stream during financial year 2013/14. They are located at Yallahs in St. Thomas; Hill Run in St Catherine; Ebony Park in Clarendon and New Forest/Duff House on the border of Manchester and St. Elizabeth. The main crops being cultivated are condiments, tubers, fruits and vegetables. Fish farming is also a major activity in one park.
The two remaining parks at Meylersfield in Westmoreland and Etingdon in Trelawny are to be established in financial year 2014/15.
Speaking with JIS News, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Donovan Stanberry, touts the Ebony Park facility as a major success, with earnings of over $24 million from the reaping of an assortment of crops.
Mr. Stanberry says farmers now have over 300 acres of land under production, while another 1,500 acres are to be irrigated, for which funding has been identified.
Also contributing significantly to the success of the three-year initiative, are the activities at the Amity Hall Agro Park, which realised $11 million in earnings, with the majority coming from 130,000 pounds of assorted vegetables.
According to the park’s Manager, Carl Thompson, eight to 10 different crops have been planted in the park for the past several months.
“So far we have been planting more than 30 acres of pumpkin at the park; and the farmers have over 18.5 acres of land in production for sweet potatoes. Over 16.5 acres is now in production for our hot pepper or scotch bonnet, and that is a significant change to what we had started for the past six/seven months,” he says.
He notes that farmers have also been planting crops, such as escallion, tomatoes, and okra on a large scale, pointing out that “the market is there for these crops”.
Amity Hall is boasting $3.2 million from over 18,000 bushels of sorghum and $1.7 million from 7,000 bales of hay, equating to over 150 acres.
Mr. Stanberry tells JIS News that another four acres of hay are being planted with the intention to plant the entire 800 acres of land the Government leased to Caribbean Broilers, by about April.
The production of hay is critical for livestock, particular during the dry season. As a result of this high yield, the horse industry and dairy farmers are benefiting from the supply of hay.
“Thanks to the hay production we should be able to have an increase in milk production this year …because one of the things that is tied in with milk production is the unavailability of feed during the dry season,” he says.
Additionally, a test run for Irish potato production on five acres of land and soil testing for Ginger and Turmeric were also conducted at Amity Hall. Plans are also underway for the production of onion on 131 acres.
Some 600,000 pounds were expected from 40 acres of onion planted on the Plantain Garden River Agro Park in St Thomas. However, due to an outbreak of soft rot disease and poor germination, only 18,000 pounds were reaped. The harvest was valued at $800,000.
Onion accounts for a significant portion of the country’s high food import bill, and its production is being explored on a large scale across most of the parks. As such, the Ministry of Agriculture and its supporting agencies are ensuring that best practices are implemented for the success of the crop.
To counter the loss in the onion crop, farmers returned to the production of pumpkin, hot pepper, escallion and calaloo. The overall revenue is projected at $54.6 million. In total, 60 acres are under production with another 230 to come on stream.
Over at the Yallahs Agro Park, Mr. Stanberry notes that the facility started “modestly with 22 acres of onion,” but there are plans to put an additional 8,000 acres in production.
In anticipation of this increase, the Government installed a $395 million irrigation system which was commissioned in January.
At the New Forest/Duff House Agro Park, farmers are producing mostly onions and escallion.
In terms of the Hill Run facility, Mr. Stanberry says it is intended to expand the acreage under aquaculture, “and we have seen quite a significant expansion since late last year.”
Meanwhile, work is on in earnest to start production on Spring Plain, Meylersfield and Etingdon in Clarendon and Trelawny, as the Agriculture Ministry works to ensure all nine Agro Parks are in full operation by 2015.
Providing an update on the Spring Plain Agro Park, the Permanent Secretary informs that the bidding process for the installation of the requisite infrastructure, such as irrigation, proper drainage and farm roads, has begun.
“We are also completing feasibility at Meylersfield and Etingdon in Trelawny. These two are expected to come on board in the financial year starting April 1, and we are budgeting for it,” he says.
A feasibility study is also being carried out for the construction of a multi-species Abattoir, which will be funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
In addition, US$55 million has been secured to install infrastructure on the remaining parks. This will be carried out in 2014 to have the parks in operation by 2015.
The Agro Parks initiative continues to advance steadily, with the increased output resulting in the agricultural sector recording growth for the October to December quarter last year.
According to the Planning Institute of Jamaica’s (PIOJ) Review of Economic Performance, for the quarter, agriculture, forestry and fishing grew by an estimated 10 per cent.
Director General of the PIOJ, Colin Bullock, told a media briefing in February that an estimated growth in real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 1.4 per cent was recorded in the October to December 2013 quarter, which was partly due to the positive impact of the agro parks initiative.