Minister Clarke Announces $700 Million Project to Benefit Displaced Banana Farmers


Land and Agriculture Minister, Roger Clarke yesterday (May 3) unveiled several strategies to enhance rural development, among them the implementation of a $700 million rural diversification programme.
The Minister, who was making his contribution to the 2006/07 Budget Debate in Gordon House, said that the initiative, which is being funded by the European Union, would benefit some 10,000 displaced farmers and port workers in traditional banana producing parishes over a six to seven year period.
The project is in its design stage and would benefit farmers and port workers formerly engaged in export banana production in the parishes of St. Andrew, Portland, St. Thomas, St. Mary, Clarendon and St. James.
Informing that field activities were expected to commence in the final quarter of the year, Minister Clarke said the undertaking would promote viable economic alternatives for farm families in both agricultural and non-agricultural income-generating activities. “We consider poverty alleviation through people empowerment and employment generation as critical areas for priority attention,” he noted.
Meanwhile, the Land and Agriculture Minister said that the $3.8 billion allocated in the 2006/07 budget reflected a $1.8 billion or 89.1 per cent increase above the revised 2005/06 budget, with significant amounts being allocated to critical areas such as the Agricultural Support Services Project (ASSP), research and development and the export complex, among others.
“The sum of these increases is just over $400 million and within the context of a marginal increase in the national budget, this speaks volumes,” he told the House.
He noted that the allocation would go towards projects to empower small-scale farm families with particular emphasis on youth and women; exploiting the natural synergies between agriculture and tourism; empowering displaced persons, who were formerly engaged in agricultural production; and safeguarding the sustainability of the sector as well as repositioning the sugar industry after the new European Union regime.
“One of our areas of focus will be on the provision of skills training for youth and women at the community level in areas such as beekeeping, husbandry and ornamental fish production, as they require minimal start up capital while yielding good returns,” the Minister said.
In the meantime, he told Parliamentarians that facilitating linkages between farmers and agro-processors was another proposed strategy to increase value-added production and marketing systems, while ensuring an adequate supply of raw material for the agro-processing industry.
To this end, the ASSP is involved in designing a $45.3 million project to be implemented in collaboration with the Huntley Farmers Association in Manchester, which is expected to generate an estimated $188 million over a five-year period.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to further align the sector with international production standards, the Land and Agriculture Minister announced that “the Ministry was preparing to publish a Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) reference manual as a guide to inform farmers, extension officers and all agricultural stakeholders on the minimum acceptable procedures as they apply to apiculture, fisheries, crop and livestock production.”
He said priority would also be given to developing a marketing strategy for the sector during this year.
With regard to irrigation, Minister Clarke informed that steps have been taken to engage a specialist to develop a comprehensive package of small-scale irrigation projects, so that funding could be sought.

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