The Financial Access for Responsible Members (FARM) programme of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is seeking to establish a platform that will yield significant post harvest benefits for farmers involved, as well as other stakeholders.
Chief Technical Director, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Dr. Marc Panton.
FARM, which commenced in November 2009, aims to enhance Jamaica’s agricultural output by facilitating persons, serious about making a livelihood out of farming, with funding access to finance their undertakings. The programme is currently being executed in St. Elizabeth, St. Catherine, Manchester, Clarendon, St. Thomas,
St. Mary, St. Ann, and St. James, where it is being undertaken as a pilot.
The crops which the FARM programme currently targets include: Irish potatoes, onions, ginger, sorrel, hot peppers, and roots and tubers, such as yam, the markets for which the Ministry’s Chief Technical Director, Dr. Marc Panton, says are considered to be “very deep.”
Dr. Panton tells JIS News that in developing FARM, the Ministry focused, not only on crop production, but also took into consideration post harvest inputs, and the derivable benefits.
“We are looking at, for example, the drying of onions, to ensure that the quality the consumer gets is excellent. We want to make sure that the drying is thorough .and that we have proper storage facilities. We are working with the private sector in this regard,” he outlines.
This augurs well for the farmers whom, Dr. Panton informs, are required to have contractual arrangements with established purchasers. These purchasers, he explains, are primarily “traditional importers,” which are large entities that bring in produce for distribution to the wholesale and retail trades.
The Chief Technical Director explains that discussions have been held with the importers about supplies. “We’re not trying to change your business, we simply want to change the source of your supplies. So, rather than supporting the North American farmers for onions, for example, you support the local farmers,” he told them recently.
Another area of focus, Dr. Panton informs, is the value-added component which incorporates entities involved in agro-processing, utilising more local produce in their outputs, particularly where they move to expand their overseas markets, and where there is greater than anticipated crop yields, citing hot peppers as an example.
“We are pleased to inform that the processors of pepper sauce are happy, because they have had upwards of eight months of pepper mash in storage, so they have adequate supplies in case of any unforeseen circumstance. I think that’s excellent.and that’s as a result of local production, not imports,” he says.
“So, we want to work with private sector stakeholders. If they can get into a new market with a sauce, or if they have an existing overseas market and they can substitute their external pepper source with local inputs, then that is what we want to work towards,” the Chief Technical Director adds.
Dr. Panton outlines the link between the value-added component and agro-processing, citing the enhanced derivable benefits accruable to the sector’s stakeholders.
“We have to ensure that we prepare the products to meet the demands and discerning tastes of the consumer. For example, if you take the sweet potato in its primary form, there’s only so much you can do with it. But when you go into value-added, you could look at producing sweet potato wedges, which you could freeze and ship overseas,” he points out.
“We could ramp up production fairly quickly to meet that new demand.that’s why we are working with the Jamaica Exporters’ Association (JEA) and Jamaica Agro-Processors Association (JAPA) to get some of these creative ideas off the ground and into the various markets,” he says, adding that efforts are also being made to explore further linkages locally, particularly with the hotel chains.
Noting the superior quality for which Jamaican products are renowned globally, Dr. Panton is optimistic that the country can maintain this standard.
“The challenge we have is that, based on our history, we have been a country of ‘samples’. I believe we can change that. We simply have to provide the network to ensure that, in terms of primary production and processing, we will be able to meet any demand that is asked of us overseas, and our farmers and exporters are up to the challenge,” the Chief Technical Director tells JIS News.