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State Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Ian Hayles, is appealing to the banking sector to offer more low interest loans to farmers as a means of boosting agricultural productivity.

“At the end of every financial year, the banks will tell you that ‘we made $10 billion in profit, we made $12 billion in profit’. I am appealing to the banks…put away $200 million to $300 million of that money yearly and offer the farmers…rates of between two and four per cent so that they can go into production,” he implored.

Mr. Hayles was addressing the first graduating class of the agricultural sub-component of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund’s (JSIF) Mediation and Conflict Resolution Package III programme at the Caymanas Golf and Country Club in St. Catherine yesterday (November 21).

Mr. Hayles lamented that while Eastern Caribbean states offer agricultural loans with interest rates of up to three per cent, the rates offered by Jamaican banks are “anywhere between eight and 10 per cent at a time”.

“Farmers in Jamaica, third world farmers, cannot live or survive or fight the level of importation if we don’t cut those interest rates,” he stressed.

Meanwhile, the State Minister assured farmers that the Government will continue working to create an environment where they can flourish, while decreasing the level of agricultural imports into the country, estimated at over US$1 billion per year.

“It is the policy of the Ministry of Agriculture  to ensure that when you plant out here and you produce, it is for us in the Ministry to cut back on the waivers, stop what we can stop, to ensure that you can sell your produce here in Jamaica,” he stated.

“So if we have 50 pounds of tomatoes in the country and 50 pounds are coming through on the ports, we can say that 50 pounds are not supposed to come through, because we already have 50 pounds (of local produce),” he said.

He noted further that more will have to be done to create “those kinds of synergies right across the sectors,” that will allow local farmers to find markets for their produce.

A total of 29 residents of Tawes Meadows in St. Catherine completed the 12-month programme. During the period, the participants were trained by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) in chicken rearing, animal husbandry, bee keeping and cash crop farming. Food for the Poor also partnered in the venture.