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President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), Senator Norman Grant, is calling for agricultural extension officers to be more fully integrated in the farming communities.

“One way that we could see increased production and greater efficiencies in the agricultural industry is by placing agricultural extension officers to live and work in local farming communities,” he stated.

Senator Grant was making his contribution to the State of the Nation Debate in the Senate on Friday, February 22, where he recommended a number of measures to increase agricultural production in the country.

Among them are the implementation of integrated pest management, and providing loans and grants to farmers for the purchase of drip irrigation and sprinkler systems.

He said that the provision of fertiliser subsidies should be based on soil analysis and that there should be greater integration of research stations with the private sector and farmer groups.

Meanwhile, Senator Grant said that there is potential for over 114,000 hectares of agricultural farms, which are lying inactive, to be put into demand-led production.

“We have to create space for large investors to complement the resilient small farmers across the length and breadth of this island,” he said.

The 2007 Agricultural Census identified approximately 326,000 hectares of land available for farming, however only 62 per cent of this land is currently in active farming.

Senator Grant commended the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries for injecting $8 million in the fight against the coffee leaf rust disease and recommended that measures be put in place to develop the industry.

“We need a massive resuscitation programme (for) the local coffee market of over $2 billion,” he stated.

He said that banana, sugar cane, pimento, cocoa, domestic crops, and fisheries, also offer significant potential for earning foreign exchange and growing the economy.

“These (crops) all have major roles to play in this mission to make Jamaica a great nation,” he said.