JIS News

The quality of life of thousands of small farmers in St. Ann have improved significantly through the Jamaica Bauxite Institute’s programme of using reclaimed mined-out bauxite lands for the production of cash crops. Community and Public Relations Co-ordinator at the St. Ann Bauxite Company, Kent Skyers tells JIS News that the company has been involved in the project for several years and this is just one of the many initiatives that the company has undertaken to give back to communities in which it operates. “The company has been involved in the cash crop project for many years,” he says. “It has intensified in recent years as each year we assist over 400 farmers. Most of the persons in our mining communities are farmers and what we are trying to do is to find ways to improve on the efficiency levels of these farmers,” he adds.
Under the programme, the company does not only provide farming lands but also agricultural inputs such as seedlings, fertilizers and water to boost production. “For a farmer, who is involved in vegetable production, inputs such as fertilizers or chemicals can be a major cost factor. Our programme ensures that farmers are able to put in the right inputs to get the appropriate returns. We are just trying to improve and maximize their returns,” he notes.
In the early days, it was thought that mined-out bauxite lands were only suitable for livestock rearing, primarily dairy farming and a few crops, however scientific research has proven that a number of crops, such as tomato, cucumber, sweet pepper and scotch bonnet pepper, calaloo, corn and cabbage, can be profitably grown on these lands.
Mr. Skyers tells JIS News that while many farmers were very skeptical about the programme at the initial stages, seeing the results of their hard work, has provided an incentive for them to go on.
“Farmers were skeptical at the beginning about the programme but when people are seeing the type of returns that they are getting, people are actually changing their position in terms of how they view these restored lands. They are realizing that although the lands have been mined and they are restored, once these lands have been properly restored, the use of the lands can be used successfully. I think it is a whole culture change where people are realizing that the restored lands are suitable for agricultural production and other things,” he elaborates.
According to Mr. Skyers, the project has been a success. “Every year, once you go into different communities, you would have seen farmers that are reaping their crops and are selling products. Based on the returns that the farmers are getting from their production, the project has been really good,” he points out.
To assist the farmers in selling their produce, the company is now seeking to forge special marketing arrangements with the Rural Agricultural Authority of Jamaica (RADA), and other entities. “We are looking to enter into contractual arrangements where some of these farmers can produce goods for specific purchasers, so we are trying to put a relationship in place where the market arrangements are more cemented,” he told JIS News.
He notes further that the company is taking steps to ensure that farmers take advantage of the growing hotel industry in the parish. “We do have an expansion in the tourist trade and we see a direct linkage between the production of these crops and farmers selling to these hotels.”
“We are in the process of talking to these hoteliers to find out what kind of arrangements they can put in place for the farmers to become a constant and reliable supplier of agricultural goods to these hotels. We want to continue to expand on the whole programme to see how we can actually have the farmers producing more and contributing more to the hotel sector,” he informs. Wayne Shirley, a farmer from the Lime Tree Gardens community in the parish, has been a farmer for over 13 years but has been involved in the project for some seven years.
He tells JIS News that the project has improved the economic welfare of many persons in his community including the elderly. “The programme is very beneficial, the elderly people now do farming, and it has been working out quiet well,” Mr. Shirley says.
“It is the best thing that has come on stream for our community so far and I am just hoping that the company will continue to assist us in that regard. They really help us. I would just like to encourage the company to continue the work that they are doing; it has really been good. I would encourage anyone who is interested in farming to get on board,” he urges.
Mr. Shirley says he would like the company to incorporate animal rearing as part of the programme. “While the project is working and everything, I would love for them to help us to raise some goat or cows or pigs, any animals especially to help the young people some more,” he says.
Meanwhile, Cosgrave Campbell, a farmer, who has been involved in the initiative for the past three years, says that the programme has allowed him to do what he loves most. “From the day I am growing up I just had a love for farming. It is my first priority and .this programme has helped me to love farming more,” he says.
“We plant sweet peppers, hot peppers and pumpkins. These are doing very well, especially the sweet pepper and the pumpkin. The market out here is quiet good and you don’t have a problem selling them. I am really happy to be a part of this programme,” he says.
Mr. Campbell says that he would encourage anyone who loves farming to be a part of the programme.
“The programme is interesting and once you love to farm it will help you, so I would encourage more people to become a part of the programme,” he adds.

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