The Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP), since its launch in March this year, has provided more than 15,000 previously jobless Jamaicans with employment opportunities, and impacted various sectors of the economy.
Agriculture is among the areas benefitting from the programme, which is now in its second phase, and is designed as a major plank of the Government's thrust to stimulate the economy and provide short term employment for thousands of Jamaicans.
Among the 2,700 persons who have gained employment in agriculture over the six-month period is 25 year-old Martin Henry, who says the initiative has impacted his life significantly.
Unemployed before the programme was implemented, he says he is grateful to be placed in the agricultural sector as he was trained in farming at the Ebony Park Heart Academy and the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE).
"It has changed my life, because I am now able to spend and to do what I want to do, and the country is benefitting from what I know and was taught during school. I am not just sitting down at home anymore," he says.
Mr. Henry is employed as a Technical Field Assistant in the Ministry of Agriculture and oversees several turmeric farms located across the parish of Clarendon.
Mr. Henry tells JIS News that the farms are located in Ebony Park, Moravia, Moores, Race Course, Hayes, Tollgate, among other areas.
He says as part of his job, he takes care of the crop while ensuring that it is fertilised, weeded and the farmers are doing the correct things to ensure its growth and maturity.
Mr. Martin argues that the JEEP is critical to his co-workers who have also gained employment through the initiative.
The programme not only provides benefits to the employees in the sector, but also the farmers.
Field Officer in the Agriculture Ministry, Kirvin Riley, another employee under the programme, says the initiative has enabled farmers to be gainfully employed in ginger production.
He too was trained in agriculture at the Elim Agricultural School and CASE, and describes himself as "a farmer from birth."
"Since leaving CASE, I have been enrolled in this programme from March 2012, supervising some 283 farmers in the parish of Clarendon," he says.
Mr. Riley says the farmers have been cultivating over 200 hectares of ginger and are being facilitated by the programme through the export division of the Ministry.
He notes that the farmers are given assistance to increase ginger production, informing that they receive a grant which is issued in the form of fertiliser and chemicals.
Mr. Riley points out that JEEP has helped the farmers greatly by reducing their cost of production by making fertilizer available at a cheaper cost, adding that it is one of the basic inputs in growing ginger.
He informs that prior to the programme, farmers were "struggling," hence the grant and technical advice provided have been critical. He added that poor cultivation practices were hampering production yields and this has changed since the implementation of the programme.
Success stories such as these have contributed to the JEEP Secretariat reporting an overwhelming response to the programme, noting that the First Phase has exceeded projection of employing 5,000 persons, and instead has created 15,000 jobs.
During phase one, persons were employed within several Ministries and Agencies, undertaking tasks in the areas of infrastructure, agriculture, education and intensive labour.
Approximately 2,700 persons have been employed in Agriculture, 12,230 in Works, 260 in the Labour and Social Security Ministry and 101 in the Education sector.
Some $1.2 billion was budgeted for Phase One of the programme.
For Phase Two, a sum of $6 billion has been earmarked to be spent on projects in the Ministries of Agriculture and Fisheries; Labour and Social Security; Housing; HEART Trust/NTA and the National Housing Trust (NHT).
It is projected that some 35,000 persons will be employed during this phase of the programme.
Speaking at the launch, (in March), Prime Minister the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller described the programme as one of the most carefully constructed initiatives undertaken by any administration.
“It was fully discussed and approved at Cabinet. A Ministry Paper was tabled in Parliament, followed by extensive questioning on all aspects of the programme. I can assure the Jamaican people that accountability, transparency and efficiency will be the hallmarks in the management of this programme," she said.
The JEEP is one of the strategies of the Government to respond to the chronic unemployment status of some Jamaicans, particularly those in the lower socio-economic strata, persons with special needs as well as those with low skill levels.