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JIS News

Revitalisation of the dairy sub-sector is well underway, the success of which will secure many farmers’ livelihood, and help to address rural poverty and national food security.
Some $140 million has been allocated by the Government, for rehabilitation of the dairy sub-sector, of which $52.5 million is earmarked for concessionary loans to farmers.
The first two dairy farm loans were disbursed on September 10, and cheques representing the first installments of a loan of $1.25 million each, were presented to the farmers by Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Christopher Tufton.
“Morel Salmon and Kirk Rodney are the first two loan recipients,” Production Specialist of the Jamaica Dairy Development Board, Richard Miller, tells JIS News.
Giving a background of the farmers, Mr. Miller says that Mr. Salmon has been in dairy farming for over 24 years. He is a graduate of the Jamaica School of Agriculture, and served for many years as the Artificial Insemination Officer for St. Elizabeth. Mr. Rodney is one of Jamaica’s young second generation dairy farmers. A graduate of Munro College, he did tertiary studies in the United States, returning home recently to reactivate the farm originally operated by his parents.
“Both are registered under the Rural Agricultural Development Authority-Agricultural Business Information System (RADA-ABIS) programme, operate farms at Cabbage Valley, St. Elizabeth, and are members of the St. Elizabeth Dairy Co-operative. They are both suppliers of milk to the Jamaica Dairy Farmers Federation. They will use their loans to re-establish pastures with improved grasses, as well as to purchase additional breeding stock. The intervention is projected to increase production on these two farms by a combined 25 per cent over the next two to three years,” Mr. Miller said.
In his contribution to the 2008/09 Sectoral Debate earlier this year, Minister Tufton said: “We recognise the Jamaican farmers’ unrealised potential for providing food for tourism, authentic Jamaican brands, which can compete in the global marketplace and the source of a critical mass of foods, to reduce our vulnerability on imports.”
“Jamaica’s food import bill,” he said, “was US$662 million in 2007, rising steadily from US$479 million in 2002.”
“Dairy production tumbled from 39 million litres in 1992 to 14 million litres in 2007; a major cause being the lowering of tariffs on imported powdered milk, which is heavily subsidised,” the Minister added.
He said this policy drove 500 small and medium-sized farmers out of business, while reducing dairy cattle from 22,385 heads in 1990 to 16,000 heads in 2007.
Dr. Tufton’s policy for resuscitation is designed to reverse the decline of the dairy sub-sector, bring production levels up to 55 million litres of milk per year by 2018, and move the farmer from the margin back to the centre of agricultural production and the local economy.
“We take the Jamaican farmers for granted,” the Minister said, “and give them little credit for rural life. If not for the Jamaican farmers, many Jamaicans, particularly the rural poor, would be left to the harsh realities of international markets and rising commodity prices.”
He pointed out that research has shown that our farmers are ageing, with an average age today of 55. Further, he continued, “many have little or no formal training in agriculture or other areas, have minimal understanding of the World Trade Organization (WTO), or the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and limited opportunity to re-tool or get training, yet must face direct competition from larger subsidised and more technologically advanced producers. They would therefore require added extension services and support.”
The Ministry of Agriculture, has put programmes in place to change this. Technical support and advice are set to improve, with near doubling in the number of extension officers. Farmer registration, for planning and development, including technological support, is progressing with 100,000 of the estimated 200,000 Jamaican farmers already registered.
Some $100 million has been spent on fertiliser subsidies, in the wake of sharp increases in fertiliser costs, which have pushed up raw material costs and, in turn, commodity prices. Very significant, therefore, is the current disbursement of low cost loans to dairy farmers.
“Another 10 loan applications are currently before the Dairy Development Board,” Project Co-ordinator for the Jamaica Dairy Development Board, Byron Lawrence, tells JIS News. “These,” he says, “have been submitted by farmers in parishes across the island, and should be through the approval processes and ready for disbursement in the next few weeks.”
Speaking at a recent JIS ‘Think Tank,’ on the dairy sub-sector, Mr. Lawrence pointed out that Jamaica’s current demand for milk and milk products, was equivalent to 150 million litres per year, while 2007 production was only 14 million litres.
“Production is a mere nine per cent of demand,” he said, “and if we are able to increase production on a sustained basis, this would contribute significantly to livelihood security and rural development. We need to depend far less on milk imports, and more on our own production,” he said.
Mr. Lawrence pointed out further, that milk, as a product critical to the nation’s nutrition, would be reintroduced into the school feeding programme to meet World Health Organisation (WHO), levels for protein for school children, and boost the sector’s contribution to food sufficiency by, stabilising demand and utilising a locally produced food item.
Currently, there are 107 farmers in the dairy industry, and 3,000 farmers in the beef industry.
In the overall agricultural sector resuscitation effort, action has also been taken to halt and reverse the downward trend in meat production and reduce meat imports. Currently, Jamaica produces less than 1 per cent of its demand for mutton.
The process to reduce the importation of small ruminant meat (sheep and goat) by 50 per cent, come 2013, is well underway. Fifty ewes have been imported for herd expansion and another 60 have been secured in Australia at a cost of $24 million, and are to be airlifted to Jamaica.
Deputy Director of Research and Development with the Ministry of Agriculture, Bodles Research Station, Jasmin Holness, tells JIS News that although the sheep had been secured sometime ago, transportation to Jamaica was very technical, as they had to travel on commercial flights in the cargo hold over a 24-hour period.
It is therefore critical that maximum attention be paid to their health, country quarantine regulations, and weather conditions. These animals, she indicates, are to be used for multiplying the seed stock and should be in Jamaica before the end of December.
Highlighting other initiatives to ‘beef-up’ the sector, she reports that tender bids for the animal tagging exercise to safeguard the health and safety of meat, are now being evaluated. This, she notes, would facilitate the eventual tagging of Jamaica’s 80,000 livestock population.
Other sector revival initiatives to come on stream in the near future, are training opportunities for farmers; training of extension officers; greater focus on technology at agricultural shows, and the establishment of a Centre for Excellence in Advanced Technology at the Bodles Research Station in St. Catherine. Funding for this has been provided by the Government of Spain in the sum of US$3 million.