Business and Entrepreneurship Development Manager at the Jamaica 4-H Clubs, Villet Kelly-Bennett (left), speaking with cattle farmer of Colley Mountain, Manchester, Okeito Thompson, who is the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Youth Award for Agriculture.
Photo: Contributed

Over the years, the Jamaica 4-H Clubs has emerged as the leading organisation supporting youth in agriculture through its initiatives.

Business and Entrepreneurship Development Manager, Villet Kelly-Bennett, tells JIS News that the organisation has been assisting a number of young people in starting up or expanding their agribusinesses.

One channel through this is being facilitated is the Rural Youth Economic Empowerment Programme (RYEEP).

“We have recognized that a number of the youth we have supported are good business prospects and have been supplying, not just their local communities, but supermarkets, for example. So they are good prospects for further investment to boost their production and productivity,” Mrs Kelly-Bennett says.

Under RYEEP, beneficiaries receive training in agriculture best practices and business management, as also coaching, as well as start-up grants which may be used to purchase inputs such as small tools/equipment and, in some instances, to recruit labourers to start agriculture-based engagements.

Two phases of the programme have been completed, with a number of the participants going on to create sustainable agribusinesses.
Mrs Kelly-Bennett informs that under phase two, the organisation supported 89 beneficiaries.

“So in total, between phases one and two, we have inserted 180 youth farmers in the agriculture sector. They are all involved in crop production, vegetables, some staples, yam, Irish potatoes, and sweet potatoes. They are also involved in livestock, be it poultry, goats or pigs,” she further states.

Additionally, Mrs. Kelly-Bennett says a number of the beneficiaries are involved in bee farming and have commenced harvesting and selling the honey yielded from their operations.

“In phase one, we also had some persons who did agro-processing; we have one gentleman in St Ann who is doing very well with his juices. He is selling those in supermarkets, pharmacies and shops within the St Ann area,” she informs.

Mrs. Kelly- Bennett says plans are in place for phase three, to ensure that more young farmers get the help they need to create sustainable agribusinesses.

“We have seen how youth are empowered [on] receiving training and exposure to best practices and the necessary inputs to start up or to strengthen their businesses… [and] how they can have an impact on the agriculture sector,” she states.

Mrs. Kelly- Bennett adds that: “Already we have seen from a recent study of phase two, that 65 percent [of them] are still in business after three years”, noting that this “is not the norm”.

“Approximately 80 percent of businesses fail within three years, and we are seeing the opposite of that,” she informs.

Mrs. Kelly-Bennett cites the programme’s coaching component as one of the factors contributing to the success being achieved.

“Our coaches, even outside of a contractual relation, still maintain contact with them (the beneficiaries) and provide additional support and guidance. This has definitely contributed to the high percentage [who] we have seen, still being in business,” she states.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Kelly-Bennett says the 4-H Clubs remains focused on “[looking] at what is happening and what has changed in the environment, and how to ensure that young [agricultural entrepreneurs] are prepared and can contribute to strengthening the sector”.

She informs that one of the flagship programmes on the 4-H Clubs annual calendar, in this regard, is the youth in agriculture symposium. This year’s staging was held at the Northern Caribbean University in February.

“The support from the youth across Jamaica, both schools and entrepreneurs, was overwhelming with over 2,500 persons in attendance.

We had a number of discussion sessions, exploring and exposing them to factors relating to climate change, innovation and technology and their role and responsibility, the whole idea of entrepreneurship, and how they can get involved in boosting the sector,” Mrs. Kelly-Bennett says.

Jamaica 4-H Clubs also uses the Denbigh Agricultural and Industrial Show to highlight the work of young farmers.

“We use the opportunity to expose what they are doing and help them to build a network with private sector organizations, new market groups and new suppliers. We continue to provide training for them through our volunteer arms,” Mrs. Kelly-Bennet informs.

Additionally, she says: “We continue to, through an initiative we started as well with Agro Investment Corporation, in trying to help them access land, which is a challenge for young persons in Jamaica”
The Jamaica 4-H Clubs was established in 1940. In accordance to the 4-H Act of 1966, it is the Ministry of Industry, Commerce,

Agriculture and Fisheries’ youth training arm, committed to developing outstanding leaders with marketable skills.

The core function of the organization, which has a membership of 105,000, is to provide training to persons, aged of 5 to 25, in agriculture, home economics, social skills, entrepreneurship, environmental awareness and healthy lifestyle.

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