- The Agro Investment Corporation (AIC) has been living up to its mandate to modernize the country’s agricultural and agribusiness base.
- Agriculture in Jamaica has been dogged by low productivity as small farmers, who make up the bulk of the country’s agricultural producers, eke out a minimal existence primarily on small individual plots of land.
- The AIC is addressing these shortfalls by focusing on making land available to groups of small farmers as well as larger investors, and facilitating access to modern inputs.
The Agro Investment Corporation (AIC) has been living up to its mandate to modernize the country’s agricultural and agribusiness base, boost employment in the sector and lay the groundwork for increased production and improved productivity.
Agriculture in Jamaica has been dogged by low productivity as small farmers, who make up the bulk of the country’s agricultural producers, eke out a minimal existence primarily on small individual plots of land.
These small plots cannot facilitate large-scale production as their location on marginal lands and other sites poorly suited to farming, has militated against the use of modern inputs, such as irrigation and land preparation using tractors and specialized equipment.
Historically, the best lands on the plains have, for centuries, been restricted to crops such as sugar cane, at the expense of other crops which could also help to grow the economy by earning precious foreign exchange and substituting expensive inputs in animal feeds like corn, through crops such as sorghum.
The AIC, an agency of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, is addressing these shortfalls by focusing on making land available to groups of small farmers as well as larger investors, and facilitating access to modern inputs in some instances, through the Agro Park Programme.
While some of the projects implemented so far have been pilot programmes with attendant teething pains, the agency is reporting overall success in its endeavours with some 1,024.6 acres under production and employment of some 1,046 persons.
The AIC is also advancing the use of scientific animal husbandry in the production of high quality meats to be processed by a modern small ruminant abattoir (being developed under the Agro Park Programme) for entry into the hotel trade and other established local markets.
The Agro Park Programme is also embarking on a project to increase local inland fisheries, ensuring that the requisite food safety standards are met. The plan is to partner with Rainforest in employing creative marketing programmes to increase demand for various fish products.
Overall, the Agro Park Programme is expected to save Jamaica over $5 billion (US$48 million) annually, while providing employment options for 5,156 persons.
Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, is depending on the Agro Parks to play a critical role in Jamaica’s economic recovery process.
“The Agro Parks are being developed to produce crops to support import substitution or replacement of selected imported crops as well as producing crops used as raw material for agro processors, fresh produce exporters, the School Feeding Programme and hotels and restaurants. The simple fact is that we must reduce our annual food import bill of US$1 billion as we simply cannot sustain this,” Mr. Clarke emphasizes.
There are nine Agro Parks, which are located at: Amity Hall, St. Catherine; Hill Run, St. Catherine; Ebony Park, Clarendon; Spring Plain, Clarendon; New Forest/Duff House, Manchester/St. Elizabeth; Plantain Garden River, St Thomas; Yallahs, St. Thomas; Etingdon, Trelawny; and Meylersfield, Westmoreland.
Chief Executive Officer of the AIC, Everton Spencer, says the parks are geared at maximizing productivity by developing under-utilised lands and infrastructure adapted to the changing nature of agriculture/agribusiness development and facilitating access to funding sources.
“We have been making significant strides in establishing productive ventures that result both in improved yields and enhanced earning and employment for farmers,” Mr. Spencer notes.
Among the successes is the establishment of 188 acres of sorghum, in partnership with Caribbean Broilers, of which 138 acres have been harvested at the Amity Hall Agro Park. The project has resulted in foreign exchange savings of over US$50,000 (J$5.3 million), with projections to establish some 818 acres within the 2014/2015 financial year that could result in savings of US$795,000 (J$83.5 million).
At Amity Hall, small farmers reaped and sold 213,205 pounds of vegetables, tubers, and condiments, earning $6.9 million between April and October last year. Currently 115.9 acres of land are under production, including onions, fruits, vegetables, tubers and condiments, while 100 acres of hay are in production in support of a private sector led small ruminant expansion project.
Other positive components include a youth in agriculture programme, geared at encouraging young persons to enter agriculture through a partnership with the 4-H Clubs at Amity Hall, of which 20 youth have been selected, lease documents issued and financing arranged through a range of financial institutions, private companies and local development agencies.
The University of the West Indies has also committed $600,000 in support of the venture, while the young beneficiaries have also been exposed to training in developing business plans and enhanced production methodologies.
Among the major infrastructure improvements at Amity Hall are the establishment of irrigation and drainage systems on some 1,900 acres of land, with significant bridge and road improvements undertaken, to allow access to large agricultural equipment, such as planters and harvesters.
At Ebony Park, 70 farmers have produced and harvested over 478,523 pounds of onions, vegetables, roots and tubers, hot peppers and other condiments at an approximate value of $21.5 million.
Over at Spring Plain, 100 acres have been cleared and irrigation installed, in preparation for the establishment of 60 acres of onion during the spring planting season. Interest has already been expressed regarding a lease on the green houses located at Ebony Park to be used as storage for the onions. Also, a marketer is interested in leasing an existing packaging/storage facility, to have it retrofitted to cure and store onions.
At Duff House/New Forest, 158 acres of condiments, hot pepper and vegetables are being cultivated. The Yallahs Agro Park, recently launched, is also underway, with 22.45 acres of onions in the ground.
The Plantain Garden park has yielded 7,624 pounds of ginger from just four tenths of an acre out of a total of 10 acres, with the farmers set to earn significant sums to be paid directly from the Agriculture Ministry.
Continuing the drive at import substitution, a tilapia fish rearing project is being implemented and currently 224 pond acres are under production.
With regard to the small ruminant abattoir in Westmoreland, the project is being rolled out as a Public/Private Partnership and $80 million in funding has been committed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) as equity.
The AIC continues to facilitate the investment efforts of the private sector, and most recently it enabled a 36-acre experimental project at Bernard Lodge, being implemented by Red Stripe to grow cassava to replace grain in the brewing process.