The Centre of Excellence for Advanced Technology in Agriculture (CEATA) is breathing new life into the agricultural sector of Jamaica and other Caribbean countries.
Funded by the Spanish Government, and operating out of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus, CEATA is a regional initiative, aimed at boosting competiveness and productivity in agriculture.
It operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and was launched in 2009.
The principal objectives of CEATA are: to increase the agricultural production capacity (both in terms of yield and quality), in order to meet the demand for quality fruits and vegetables; and to lay the foundations, which will enable private initiatives for the increased exportation of these food items.
“The aim of the project is to expand the depth of technical knowledge in the greenhouse sector in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean,” Lecturer at the UWI and Director of CEATA greenhouse project, Dr. Derrick Deslandes, tells JIS News in an interview.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed by the UWI with the Ministry of Agriculture to manage the project.
In the last year and a half, Jamaicans and other Caribbean nationals have had access to intense ‘Training the Trainers’ seminars at CEATA, which focuses on protected agriculture. The seminars are to enhance the knowledge transfer in advanced technologies throughout the region, and different techniques design, in how to build greenhouse structures.
“In the first round (last October), we trained extension officers and agricultural staff attached to the Agriculture Ministries within the region. The second round of training was geared towards farmers, although some extension officers were also trained,” Dr. Deslandes points out.
“Training is funded by the Spanish Agency of International Development (AECID), and the money comes through the CARICOM Secretariat. So, we are basically working with CARICOM and the Spanish agency to deepen our knowledge of greenhouse structures and greenhouse production systems,” he adds.
Dr. Deslandes says that so far, two state-of-the-art greenhouses have been constructed, one in Elim, St. Elizabeth and the other in Coleyville, Manchester. “The idea is to use these state-of –the- art greenhouses as training tools to improve the knowledge and skills-set of greenhouse operators and also to train a cadre of young persons who will be able to obtain employment within the agricultural sector,” he notes.
The technical knowledge gained by participants in these training sessions promote regional integration, as participants are able to make useful professional contacts and share opinions on the challenges experienced in their own countries.
Dr. Deslandes says that one challenge that the centre faces is that there is not enough funding, so the primary focus in the last couple of years has been to secure additional funding. “We are in constant dialogue with different agencies to facilitate this process to keep the programme going,” he notes.
“We are also in discussion with the Spanish Institut de Recerca i Tecnologia Agroalimentaries (IRTA), an institution which specialises in research and training. This institutional research centre identifies new crops, new ideas, new production systems with the goal of improving productivity and performance of the agricultural sector in countries,” he explains.
The primary role of the CEATA is to co-ordinate and identify the development of new technology in the agricultural sector. Operatinglargely on a virtual basis,it aims to bring together the activities of critical agricultural institutions in Jamaica and the CARICOM region and help to transfer technology from those institutions to farmers, or from wherever in the world those technologies are located, and bring them into the region to be used to transform the region’s agricultural sector.