Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Dr. Christopher Tufton, has reiterated his call for more young persons to consider agriculture as a viable career option.
Dr.Tufton noted that the average age of the Jamaican farmer is 50 but, while the country has the greatest respect for experienced farmers, the future of farming must rest with a younger generation taking over.
He added that the Government was prepared to work with this new generation of farmers to become the catalyst for an agricultural revolution, because it will be necessary to ensure the sustainability of the sector and ultimately food security within the country.
"Our young people will have to be the catalyst for the agricultural revolution that we require to move this country forward," Dr. Tufton said, as he made his contribution to the 2009/10 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives on Tuesday (July 7).
He said that the farming sector could only move forward if people who are trained in agriculture are encouraged and motivated to engage in a businesslike manner. He also suggested that agriculture be taught in more schools.
He commended the 4-H Movement for the work it has been doing to introduce agriculture to students. He noted that last year, the movement established school gardens in 402 schools and increased its membership by 18.6 per cent, to over 70,000. The movement aims at establishing school gardens in at least another 300 schools this year.
Last year, 806 students graduated from higher levels of learning with degrees and diplomas in agriculture related fields. These included the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE), the University of the West Indies (UWI) and Ebony Park HEART Academy.
"Tracer studies done by CASE indicate that some 50 per cent of their graduates end up in agriculture, with the other 50 per cent doing other things. The big challenge with getting young people, who are qualified, (interested) in agriculture is lack of land and lack of collateral which places them in a vulnerable position, even though they might be interested," he said.
The Minister noted that another programme which the Ministry has embarked on to encourage young persons, up to 30 years old, to become agro-entrepreneurs is the Youth in Agriculture initiative.
"These persons are trained in agriculture and are interested in careers in agriculture and will be given assistance with business development plans, access to land and capital to establish their agro-business," he said.
This initiative, he noted, has engaged some 48 agro-entrepreneurs, with 43 already starting to produce, at a cost of some $21 million. He added that this year the Ministry intends to expand the programme with an additional $50 million, targeting another 50 agro-entrepreneurs, to get them engaged, help them develop their business plans and get them started in planting crops that the market requires.