As Jamaica moves to improve its skills in greenhouse technology in order to boost agricultural production and local food security, 12 young persons have been enrolled in a Modified Environment Agriculture Certification Programme at the Ebony Park HEART Academy in Clarendon.
The 12 young persons are learning skills to correctly fabricate greenhouses, as well as use protected horticultural and agricultural practices to respond to the needs of the agricultural sector. Trainees are being instructed on plant growing environment, structure and systems; plant nutrition and fertilisation; integrated pest management; and crop culture.
The programme, which was officially launched in July 2008, is a joint initiative involving the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), HEART Trust/NTA, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through its Jamaica Farmers Access to Regional Markets (JA FARMS) project.
A training manual, designed by the USAID in partnership with RADA, HEART/NTA and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, is being used in the curriculum.
Chief of Party for USAID JA FARMS, Weston Moses, tells JIS News that the year-long training programme is aimed at certifying students in protected agriculture, so as to meet the growing greenhouse/protected agriculture sub sector.
“They are not only learning the production technology, but they are also learning the construction technology. When they graduate from the course, they will know how to build their own greenhouses and that is good,” he notes.
He says that so far, the feedback from the students has been positive and there are plans to increase the number enrolled in the programme to about 40 per year. “The more people we have trained in greenhouse construction will eventually help to lower the cost of the greenhouses, as right now, they can be quite expensive,” he points out.
Explaining that the training is to provide support to the industry, he is inviting “anyone who has greenhouses and needs to get their employees trained in pruning technique or trellising, to contact HEART Trust/NTA and get their employees’ skills upgraded.”
Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Dr. Christopher Tufton, in his remarks at the launch, lauded the training programme as “an extremely well-timed one”, occurring at a time when the agricultural sector in Jamaica is undergoing major transformation, as it seeks to address deficiencies in the system and increase productivity among farmers.
He pointed out that the HEART Trust/NTA, and in particular, Ebony Park, had taken a step in the right direction, not only by recognising the importance of improved technology in agriculture, but also by facilitating the training programme.
Director of the United States Agency for International Development (UASID), Dr. Karen Hilliard, emphasises the benefits of greenhouse technology to Jamaica’s agricultural sector.
“I am confident that as long as protected agriculture technology is properly implemented with good management, we could witness significant increases in domestic food crops within the next few years,” Dr. Tufton said.
Director of the USAID, Dr. Karen Hilliard, tells JIS News that the JA FARMS programme is also training 14 master trainers from RADA – one from each parish – in greenhouse production. She notes that the training “is to get their skills up to speed on the technology, so that they can incorporate the technology into their extension services they provide parish wide.”
According to Dr. Hilliard, greenhouse technology is a “great example of simple low cost technology that has the potential to revolutionise the agricultural sector here.”
She says the aim is to get Jamaica to a point where “it is producing such good quality fruits and vegetables that the hotel industry decides to buy it locally, instead of importing.”
“There is no reason on earth why Jamaica should be importing vegetables from the United States of America or from anywhere else. With the proper technology and training, Jamaican farmers can produce them right here,” she adds.
In highlighting the benefits of greenhouse farming, Dr. Hilliard says that not only does the farmer get a higher yield, but crops are of better quality, because insects and parasites are kept out. There are also environmental benefits, she says, which go a long way in preserving protected areas for eco-tourism.
USAID’s JA FARMS project, which got underway in 2006, seeks to increase food security in Jamaica by strengthening networks of viable agricultural supply, meeting domestic and export markets for fresh fruits and vegetables, while building capacity within the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to better address unsustainable agricultural practices, promote greenhouse technology, and facilitate appropriate technology transfer to the sub-sector.
Under the project, a number of farmers’ groups across the island have benefited from skills in constructing hurricane-resistant high tunnel houses for the growing of crops, including the Walkerswood Pepper Growers of St. Ann, who supplies scotch bonnet peppers to Walkerswood Foods. The group has applied that technology to the growing of the peppers and additional crops such as lettuce, cabbage and sweet pepper. Farmers have also benefited from networking sessions with agro processors and marketers.
Meanwhile, Dr. Hilliard informs that the project will be placing more emphasis on marketing, in order to link producers with the buyers, and ultimately, the consumers.
“JA FARMS is going to be establishing a marketing intelligence system that will provide pricing information on 12 key crops, for example, scotch bonnet peppers, yams, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, things like that,” she informs.
This marketing initiative, she says, will enable farmers to better negotiate a fair price for their produce, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries can improve on its planning and extension services to farmers.
Since 2006, USAID has spent a total of US$1.7 million on the JA FARMS programme.