JIS News

The Ministry of Agriculture has entered into a $16 million agreement with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), for the provision of improved planting material (germplasm) to revitalize the fruit tree crop industry.
The allocation, which is being made under the FAO’s Assistance to Improve Fruit Crop Production project (previously the Exotic Fruit Crop Project), will also go towards advancing nursery and orchard management.
It will enable the hiring of fruit crop production and processing expert, Dr. Odilo Duarte, provide technical assistance to farmers, commission the services of a post harvest consultant and a marketing economist, and the production of a manual on plant propagation, nursery management and techniques for success.
Study tours will also be conducted with officers going to Cuba, Brazil or Florida to study nursery techniques.
Agriculture Minister, Roger Clarke, told JIS News that the Ministry was “in the process of establishing nurseries as the expert, Dr. Odilo Duarte is here, and the Ministry has also allocated some $50 million to that project”.
He pointed out, that in order to improve the low-yielding and inferior fruit tree cultivars (varieties) found on orchards and to revitalize the fruit tree crop industry, “the genetic material of the planting material has to be improved”.
“We want quality (tree) plants and that is why we are concentrating on the establishment of proper nurseries, dealing with appropriate genetic material, which will enable us to obtain quality plants,” Minister Clarke said.
Chief Technical Director in the Ministry, Don McGlashan, told JIS News, that the Ministry was seeking to develop a “scientific and logical approach to nurseries. We find that plant propagation and nursery management techniques are not at the level they should be in terms of capability and capacity”.
He noted that the aim was to do away with the inefficient method of growing trees from seedlings, and instead promote the use of grafting material (root cutting or stem cuttings) for the tree species being propagated.
Outlining the deficiencies of using seedlings, Mr. McGlashan said that seedlings cause variable production in the field. “The trees will mature, producing different size fruits, or the trees will be of different sizes, or some will bear at three years, some at four or five years or not bear at all,” he explained.
He noted further, that because the improved technique entailed “grafting the parent stock (rootstock) and attaching to it a variety (cultivar) of the fruit tree, we know what the crop will look like in terms of the crop’s colour of fruit, shape of fruit and its size”.
Trees planted from grafted material also tend to mature much earlier, Mr. McGlashan said, adding that mass production could also be successfully achieved in nurseries that were secure and located in areas that were sufficiently irrigated and not prone to flooding.
In the long-term, he said, the Ministry intends to achieve the establishment of a quality fruit tree crop industry, with planting material from known pedigree and predictable outcome.
In addition to the production of non-traditional orchard crops such as avocado, custard apple, sweetsop, breadfruit, june plum, and exotic fruits such as lychee, the Ministry intends to introduce the pink jackfruit germplasm, to test its adaptability and consumer acceptance.
Already, 12 farmers have been selected islandwide to establish a number of tree crops, avocado, lychee, naseberry, to determine optimum climatic conditions, and these trial farms will be a part of the Ministry’s training programme, under which a total of 100 farmers, extension officers, research and development staff are being targeted for training. The post harvest consultant, to be appointed, will conduct field days on post harvesting of fruit tree crops.
Pointing out that the Ministry would be educating all involved, Mr. McGlashan said that training workshops have already being conducted with Dr. Duarte, who lectured on plant propagation, nursery management and modern crop production techniques. He informed that another 21 sessions would be conducted up to September of this year.
Urging landowners and others who want to get into farming on a large-scale to be involved in fruit tree production, Mr. McGlashan cited benefits such as, “revenue potential, food security, additional nutritious diet and commercial processors of items such as ackee, need the raw product for the agro-processing industry.” He said farmers could also produce for the lucrative export market.
Started in August 2005, the project runs for 18 months, ending in January 2007. Agencies involved in its implementation are the Research and Development Division, Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), and the Technical Services Directorate.