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Increasing global concern about food security has prompted local authorities to strengthen their efforts at getting Jamaicans to value the importance of cultivating varieties of food in sufficient quantities to feed the nation.
Recent initiatives, including the Government’s “Eat What You Grow, Grow What You Eat” campaign, which have been geared at promoting greater inclusion of staples such as breadfruit, cassava, banana, and plantain in the diet, have sought to create a new attitude to the variety of creative ways in which local produce can be used.
It is against this background that the Member of Parliament for North West Clarendon, and State Minister in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Hon. Michael Stern, has been engaged in several capacity building projects in that constituency. Among these is the ginger tissue culture project, in Top Alston District.
“We are set on a path to become the breadbasket of Jamaica. We have to find a way to create jobs and opportunities for our constituents. When we grow the produce in the hills, we must then focus on agro-processing on the plains. We have to find ways and means to provide our young people with opportunities. This is all part of the capacity building in this constituency,” he says.
For the residents of this area, ginger is gold. It holds an enviable position on the world market, where it is currently sold for close to US $2.00 per pound.
According to Vice President of the North West Clarendon Ginger Resuscitation Programme, Sean Thompson, ginger has the potential to dramatically improve the economic situation of the residents.
He believes that once persons start to see positive results, they will quickly jump on board, as everyone is anxious to see signs of real growth and development taking place in the community.
“When this demonstration has become a success, then the farmers’ drive to plant will increase, and we will see significant improvement in the lives of the people here, economically,” he explains.
Mr. Thompson says that in addition to the actual cultivation of ginger, other initiatives to promote the product, including the institution of a ginger festival, to showcase the multiplicity of ways in which it can be used, will become a calendar event in North West Clarendon.
“Our hope, in say another year or so, is to have a ginger festival inside here. We will have the products derived from ginger. As you know, ginger is the base for a number of products, including perfumes and spices and essence. So we are hoping to have a day, a ginger festival day, where these products will be on display. We are hoping to partner with the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) and other interest groups, to come in and display the products and to have interest generated inside here, as to what ginger can do. This will bring wealth into the area, thereby improving the lives of the residents,” he says.
Expectations are running high, and residents of the community are all fired up. They believe this is one of the answers to their economic survival.
One of the older farmers from the area, and a firm believer in creating opportunities for community development, Astley Swazi is no less excited, as he considers the possibilities which abound.
“I do a lot of farming such as ginger. I plant pumpkin, I plant potato, oranges, yam, banana, I plant stuff like those. I just want to see progress, and I believe in progress, so I have always been here with Mr. Thompson. From the time the project start I have been here with them, and I know that the project is for the ‘betterance’ of the community, and I believe in community development. As a farmer all my years I believe in community development. As I said ginger is one of our highlight crops, and I would want to know that we are elevating it to grow more and more in these things. I believe the green house is gonna be a success; I believe in it,” he asserts.
While Top Alston is blessed with farmers who are one with the land, and possess the zeal and vigour to work passionately at their chosen vocation, they are plagued with the severely frustrating problem of ‘root rot disease’ caused by the presence of nematodes and pathogens in the soil. These destroy significant quantities of plant matter, causing the farmers to lose much of what is invested on each occasion.
Having assessed the situation, Mr. Stern has committed close to $1 million to effectively eliminate this concern, in a bid to resuscitate the industry, and ensure its continued viability.
In addition, he has engaged the technical expertise of Dr. Sylvia Mitchell of the University of the West Indies’ Bio-technology unit, along with Mr. Alvin Murray of the Christiana Potato Growers Association, the Scientific Research Council and the Rural Agricultural Development Agency, to propagate healthy, disease-free ginger plants, in a greenhouse environment. This is expected to increase the yield by a 60 to 80 per cent.
“Our hope is that in the short term, the farmers will be able to mitigate against the loss that they are currently experiencing in the field, by us multiplying the plantlets in the greenhouse, and then transferring the clean plants, with the technical support we have from the people on board, who have pledged the technical support,” Mr. Thompson states.
He discloses that certain measures are being put in place to ensure that once this particular project is up and running, it will continue to do so successfully.
“We are going to be using the Christiana Potato Growers Co-operative, which is an established body as a distributing arm for the ginger products, after this project has improved the capacity of the people here. They will also distribute the planting material to the farmers. So nothing is going to happen by chance, it will all follow a structured pattern,” he adds.
Pivotal to its success, however, is the formation of a management committee, which will direct and monitor the project, bringing together a community of farmers, with a shared vision, and the commitment necessary to turn it into reality.