JIS News

As food security becomes increasingly critical, particularly to developing nations, the Jamaican government, through the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, has been successfully employing innovative measures to attract young people to the industry, through various initiatives.
In 1998, the National Youth in Agriculture Committee was merged with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority’s (RADA) School’s Agricultural Programme to make plans to implement various activities for youth involvement in agriculture. Activities have included educational programmes, competitive events, a revolving school garden project, motivational talks and skills training.
National Youth in Agriculture Schools Agricultural Programme Coordinator, Bridgette Williams, tells JIS News that the feedback from students has been quite good. “We have a lot of students, who are involved in agriculture, who have benefited from our scholarship programme to go to CASE (College of Agriculture, Science and Education), and we have 36 recipients to date,” she informs. The programme is in effect in 200 schools across the island benefiting some 200,000 students. “The main plan is to implement more projects, especially projects using modern technology.particularly ones that are low cost, so that students can learn how to use new technology in a cost-efficient manner,” Miss Williams adds.
Meanwhile, Executive Director of the Jamaica 4-H Clubs, Lenworth Fulton explains that the Youth in Agriculture Programme is a collaborative effort between the Jamaica 4-H Clubs and RADA, on behalf of the Jamaica Agricultural Society.
For the past five years, an expo under the programme has been an opening feature of the Denbigh Agriculture and Industrial Show. “It was sort of a mixed-up with the rest of the programme for years gone by and therefore got lost within the whole matrix of the Denbigh Agricultural Show, but now it is more organized, more tuned to youth on that first day. It is a better arrangement and one which we can give more support to,” Mr. Fulton says.
Outlining how the programme works, he continues, “it includes a quiz section to find out who has the most information on 4-H as a youngster; a cook-out; and various home economic programmes. This section quizzes them on various aspects of agriculture because it is more appropriate to do that at that setting than to take them out into the field. The value of that programme is that it highlights agriculture among young people and it gives them an opportunity to display their skills and expose them further to greater agricultural pursuits and knowledge”.
Out of the programme, Mr. Fulton says, “we have been seeing a number of them going through to CASE, which recently gave a scholarship to each 4-H clubbite in a Portland High School. So we are working with CASE in giving opportunity to young people to study agriculture and to become agriculturalists and farmers and so on”. Mr. Fulton notes that Jamaicans are given the opportunity at an important event such as Denbigh to observe what youngsters are doing in agriculture.
“Each year, probably three or four receive scholarships, and there are other prizes.so probably as much as 10 of them will benefit from prizes. A great majority of them are 4-H clubbites. For youngsters, sometimes recognition is better than money because it gives them confidence to move further. Sometimes, probably 20 are recognized each year through this programme,” the Executive Director explains. He agrees that young people are becoming more interested in agriculture as a full-time means of livelihood. This is a positive for the industry and the future of the country, as the average age of the farming community is now 62 years.
However, despite the fact that young people are needed and interested in the sector, Mr. Fulton says the issue of age being debated only because farming is perceived as a back-breaking means of earning. “No-one is asking doctors and accountants their age. That age factor is because we are seeing agriculture as something where you constantly have to be lifting up drums of water and piles of wood,” he remarks. “Nothing could be further from the truth”, Mr. Fulton argues, because “we are applying technology for agriculture to be easier now, therefore, we can’t say a man who is 65 can’t practice agriculture. Farmers all over the world are going into their 70s and 80s and are still practising, because they have the equipment. We must make them (our farmers) technologically advanced so that whatever they want to do, they have the equipment and machinery there to do it”. That aside, he says that there are far more young people going into agriculture today than in previous times, particularly in the area of protected agriculture, which involves shade and green house technology, hydroponics, among other things. “Young people are also going into goat production..I think the dairy and the bee industry are going to make a comeback and from what we are seeing, young people are interested in those as well,” Mr. Fulton says.
He points out that CASE has always had a consistent supply of youngsters studying agriculture, as well as other institutions such as the Sydney Pagan Agriculture School, the HEART Trust/NTA Academy at Ebony Park, and the Knockalva Agricultural School. A number of secondary institutions, including technical high schools, also include agricultural studies in their curriculum, allowing thousands of students to sit examinations in agriculture at the CXC level. “They are also doing home economics, which is inseparable from agriculture in many respects. We are pleased to see the batch of youngsters that are going through,” Mr. Fulton says.
He adds that there is a need for more youngsters to become involved in other areas such as citrus production. “In fact, we are planting citrus right here at 4-H.we have six or seven acres and we want to build that up to about 15 acres,” he tells JIS News. Mr. Fulton informs that young persons are also very involved in pig production and have taken that a step further, by going to the vertical integration type of operation, wherein they not only rear pigs but also build and operate their own jerk centres, thereby utilizing and further capitalizing on the livestock.
In addition, the 4H Clubs has established a rabbit project, and it is hoped that young persons will become interested in this type of livestock also. “So, we can say that quite a lot of people have been going into agriculture. But remember, as in any population, as soon as the technology takes over, you won’t need any more than say five per cent of your labour force to be in agriculture. So, we expect the number of people going in to decrease over time, and the technology to increase,” Mr. Fulton asserts. Speaking about the gender ratio in the industry, the Executive Director says, “it is excellent. It could be better, but it is not one of the areas where you have a four: one ratio of girls to boys. It is 60 per cent girls and 40 per cent boys at this point and it is going closer to 55 per cent girls, 45 per cent boys with our programme. Girls are doing tractor driving and all sorts of agriculture and boys are doing the home economics programme”.
He further points out that, “it depends on what they like.we were socialized that girls should do certain things and boys should do certain things, but the world is changing around us and those are old, antiquated, rough, ugly ideas. We need to move with the times and I think the 4-H Clubs gender ratio is showing progress in that”. Mr. Fulton says that while the Jamaica 4-H Clubs is playing its role in boosting agriculture and ensuring food security, “we as a nation need to invest in the sort of technology that will make them practise agriculture much easier and to secure a better future for them, and to ensure that it doesn’t necessarily come across as the back-breaking task that some people see it as”.
He recalls that there have been times when agriculture was seen as a punishment and at some of the traditional high schools when students misbehaved, their punishment was to do some agricultural work around the school compound. “So, this is how it was sold, and wrongly so, because if you want to find out if people live well in agriculture, you don’t have to search the village and look for the poorest farmer – why not look for Robert Levy and the McConnells and all these people. They are farmers too. Therefore, we tend to look for the worse in agriculture, but I am quite certain that this trend is fading, and I am quite certain that we live up to our mission, which is to mobilize, educate and train youth in skills, such as agriculture, home economics, environmental management, leadership and social skills in rural and urban communities throughout the length and breadth of Jamaica,” he states.
Miss Williams too stresses that agriculture is not just about the hoe and fork, but offers a wide range of modern careers. “It is not only limited to direct production, but you can also be a technical officer, or work in administration,” she points out.