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    The Ministry of Agriculture is to launch a series of manuals, aimed at strengthening the role of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), in effectively providing technical support for the island’s farmers.
    Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Christopher Tufton, made the disclosure at a media briefing, to announce the appointment of 60 additional RADA extension officers, at the Eden Gardens complex in Kingston, on Thursday (March 26).
    Dr. Tufton said the publications will focus on activities aimed at enhancing production and productivity in the sector. One of the manuals will focus on the nutrient level in the soil types across the island.
    “We are now working with Rural Physical Planning, profiling the soils across the country. It’s an exercise that is being updated, in that it has been done in the past but, for some time now, we have not done that. Once that is complete, it gives farmers and extension officers an idea of the soil types that they have to work with,” he explained.
    He said that efforts were being made to launch a manual on soil diseases, which would look at testing methodologies and attendant treatments for certain soil borne diseases.
    This is a fundamental part of best practices, in order to get the productivity levels up, he said.
    Dr. Tufton stated that the Ministry will, shortly, undertake the updating and launching of another manual on proper water management, as “a critical part of the production process is going to be how we use water.”
    “Farmers sometimes have an abundance of water, and sometimes exploit that opportunity, overusing it, which affects productivity levels. In some cases, there is not sufficient (water), and that also affects the productivity levels of the plants. There are systems out there, technologies that allow us, depending on the crop, to optimise the use of our water resources,” he stated.
    The Agriculture Minister pointed out that, over the last year, RADA has been restructured to position it as an institution that provides “premier technical support services” to farmers.
    “RADA is not a welfare agency. And one of the things that we want to de-emphasise in the years to come, is the use of RADA to hand out a bag of fertiliser, or other such things, to farmers across the country,” he said.
    The 60 new extension officers recruited, 40 of whom were present during Thursday’s media briefing, will bring to 120, the complement servicing the sector islandwide. Dr. Tufton urged them to execute their duties professionally.
    He also advised the officers that they will be required to constantly upgrade themselves, thus enabling them to be on the “cutting edge of best practices” in their specialist areas.
    One of the changes that will come this year is a requirement for all RADA extension officers to undergo a minimum number of training hours during the year, which will allow them to be recertified, he said.
    Dr. Tufton said that the Centre of Excellence at the Bodles Research Station in St. Catherine, which is scheduled to be officially launched today (Friday, March 27), is an option for consideration.
    “The new look RADA is going to require extension officers to utilise the tools of the trade in order to provide best practices,” he added.

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