KINGSTON — The Government will be providing low-interest financing to farmers for the production of Irish potato and onions, aimed at saving the country some $3 billion in annual imports for the crops.
Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Robert Montague, who made the announcement at the opening of the three-day Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show in Clarendon yesterday (July 30), said that he development came out of discussions with the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) and the Agricultural Credit Board, the latter of which regulates the National Peoples Co-operative (PC) Bank.
He informed that the DBJ and the PC Bank have created a special pool of funds, with interest rate of six per cent, to on-lend to farmers to produce these crops.
"We have decided to finance the development of Irish potato and onion in nine parishes, where we hope, through the cooperation of farmers underpinned by RADA's (Rural Agricultural Development Authority) extension support and investment by the private sector, we can fulfill local demand," Mr. Montague stated. He expressed confidence in the ability of local farmers to produce quality crops.
He informed that the necessary infrastructure to facilitate production is being put in place and in the coming months, the tractor service provided through RADA will be beefed up with the addition of another four machines.
Also coming out of the talks with the DBJ and the Agricultural Credit Board, is a plan to review the interest rates on loans to the sector, the Agriculture Minister said, noting that further details will be announced within the next 30 days.
Turning to the vexed issued of praedial larceny, Mr. Montague said the Ministry will be working with the police, Production and Marketing Organizations (PMO) and technology partners, to put a security system in place to curb farm theft.
"I have commissioned a survey and have identified the two parishes that suffer the greatest from the scourge of theft. We identified a number of PMOs within those parishes and through our technology partners, we are using Closed User Groups (CUGs) to include our farmers and the police to keep them in constant contact," he informed.
"I am also in discussion with the parish councils to appoint a team of PMO members as voluntary municipal police, to assist in dealing with the unauthorized reaping of our farmers' produce," he added.
As it relates to the fisheries sector, Minister Montague said the Department of Local Government will be installing solar-powered navigation beacons to assist fisher folk, beginning with the Old Harbour and Parotee fishing beaches in St. Catherine and St. Elizabeth, respectively, with gradual roll-out across the island.
He congratulated the Spalding High School in Clarendon on their ingenious use if fish scales to produce paper glue, plastic and jewelry, noting that other ways must be found to utilise the by-products from the sector.
Meanwhile, as the Government looks to put more lands into the hands of Jamicans, through which they can undertake productive activity, Minister Montague said that the Land Access for National Development (LAND) project will be launched this year.
"We intend to waive stamp duty, transfer and registration taxes and issue certificates of compliance that will allow average Jamaicans to finally own a piece of land in his or her name," he said.
He informed that a pilot will be conducted in the next six months, through partnership with the Land Administration and Management Programme (LAMP), the PC Banks and the parish councils.
The Denbigh Agricultural Show is organised by the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) under the theme: 'Grow What We Eat, Eat What We Grow,'.
By Garfield Angus
JIS REGIONAL OFFICE