Some 14 farmers from Mafoota in St. James are pursuing a twelve-week training course in Co-operative Management, with a view to having their group enlisted as a registered co-operative.
The farmers, who have been operating as a special group participating in the Sandals/RADA Mafoota vegetable project for some time now, are taking this step to better manage their operations, and to be able to access more opportunities.
Acting Marketing Extension Officer with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) in St. James, Sadie Dixon, said the farmers wanted to formally operate as a co-operative, and the training was a requirement for registration, as laid down by the Co-operative department.
She explained that the training of the Mafoota farmers started in October 2003 and will be completed in January 2004, with the farmers attending training sessions in the Mafoota Training Centre at least three hours per week.
On completion of the prescribed training schedule, the participants will be evaluated, after which the group will be processed for registration as a cooperative. The group, she pointed out, was made up of both male and female farmers.
The farmers participating in the Sandals/RADA Mafoota vegetable growing project have been producing exotic and other vegetables for the Sandals Hotels in Montego Bay, under a special arrangement and agreement with the hotel chain. Under the agreement, the hotel provides the farmers with the seeds and the market for the products, while RADA assist the farmers with the technical extension service.
Ms. Dixon told JIS News that 2003 was a very good year, in terms of production, for the farmers on the project, adding that they are now looking at the possibility of expanding into the export market.
“After being registered as a co-operative the group is looking to go beyond that, in that, what they are planning now to do is to seek additional funding. They have applied to the Agricultural Support Services Project to see if they can access funds to put in a cold storage, grading and packaging facility, an irrigation system and also a Tractor for land preparation.
They have received assistance from the USAID Ridge to Reef Watershed Project, which has assisted in putting in a plant house. This plant house will be used for propagating vegetable seedlings for planting,” she said.
She mentioned that some trial plots of seedless watermelons are now being established specifically for export purposes. Other crops grown by this group of farmers include red and yellow sweet peppers, yellow squash, cantaloupe, zukini, pak choi, plus traditional crops such as callaloo, cabbage and string bean, among others.