JIS News

The Ministry of Agriculture has given its support to the development of the local organic agriculture sector through an investment of $20 million in the National Organic Agriculture Enhancement Project (NOAEP).
The funds will assist with the development of a national policy on organic agriculture, international and local organic certification, as well as research and development.
Speaking with JIS News, Principal Research Director at Bodles, Dr. Joseph Lindsay says, “The Ministry is drafting a policy document and supporting legislation for the organic agriculture sector”. He adds that the Ministry has taken on the responsibility to promote, supervise and monitor the development of organic agriculture as an alternative to conventional agricultural methods.
Explaining the difference between conventional and organic methods of farming, Dr. Lindsay points out, “natural farming and organic farming are not the same. Organic farming is certified, and certified that it has been done in a certain way.” He notes that certified organic inspectors state that a product is, “organic because it was produced against a certain standard, following certain steps, including record keeping, to facilitate auditing”.
“Conventional agriculture uses traditional fertilizers and pesticides. Traditional farming is not concerned with long term ill-effects or long term sustainable benefits,” Dr. Lindsay says.
Outlining the advantages of organic farming, Dr. Lindsay says the process facilitates environmental protection and biodiversity. “It is good for the environment because organic farming does not use traditional pesticides, which are synthetic, man-made chemicals. Traditional pesticides are highly soluble, which is bad for underground water reserves, and the soil,” Dr. Lindsay notes.
Explaining further, he adds, “Organic farming does not encourage mono cropping, like sugar. It encourages several crops which fosters bio-diversity.”In addition to farmers who are already involved in organic agriculture, other groups to benefit from the NOAEP are technicians, community groups, schools, female farmers, consumers and other stakeholders.Teachers and farmers, he explains, are to receive training in the development and management of organic production and processing, while students will be equipped to contribute products for sale on the local and international markets.
While the government’s assistance under the NOAEP will lead to an increase in public awareness of the availability of organic products, the programme will also result in the establishment of 12 certified organic farms. Presently there are only four internationally certified organic farms in Jamaica.
Also, at least 50 hectares of land will be made available to organic farmers. Agricultural lands owned by the state or large corporations will be identified for organic farming. “Reclaimed bauxite lands are one of the options,” discloses Dr. Lindsay.
Speaking about the crops grown on certified organic farms, Dr. Lindsay highlights the blackberry, which is being grown on the Greencastle Estate in St. Mary and Trelawny.
To bring the total number of farms to 12 and to fill the requests coming from overseas for organic products from Jamaica, eight farms will be chosen from a range of zones to grow vegetable crops such as pumpkin, tomato, cabbage, callaoo, hot pepper and herbs. The impact of various combinations of organic methods will be assessed on these farms, which will then be certified.
In addition to the crops identified, “queries have been made for organic pimento, ginger, coffee, and cocoa from companies abroad,” Dr. Lindsay tells JIS News and as such these crops will be cultivated as well. “People are willing to buy it if we have it,” he says.
Noting that organic agriculture has the potential to increase trade, Dr. Lindsay informs, that the Dominican Republic is the largest exporter of organic bananas.
The prospects for earning foreign exchange through niche marketing are guaranteed, mainly because organic farming is, “long term sustainable economic development,” he continues.
“Farms in Trelawny are cultivating organic vegetables, cassava, yam, coconuts and sheep,” Dr. Lindsay adds and notes that this is timely as organic agriculture is the fastest growing sector of the agriculture industry worldwide with the organic vegetable sector taking the lead.
In keeping with this, the Research and Development Division in the Ministry of Agriculture, through Bodles Research Station will develop an organic seed production programme. They will provide a source of quality seeds and other planting material for the organic farming sector.
Information will also be provided on organic production systems in tropical climates, and studies conducted by the Division will assist in advancing the development of organic agriculture production, not only in Jamaica, but also in CARICOM countries.”We are the model for the English-speaking Caribbean, because we have been at it for a while,” explains Dr. Lindsay.
He informs JIS News that organic agriculture will assist in poverty eradication and contribute to food security, by virtue of the farmer being able to, “manage the soil properly, grow better crops and reduce soil erosion. [This] enables us to grow our own food, and if we can grow our own food, we provide food security.”
While there will be a focus on organic vegetables, organic livestock production will also be evaluated. “Sheep, pigs, chicken, cows can be organically produced (and) organic milk and dairy products like yogurt are possible,”Dr. Lindsay informs JIS News.
Organic farms can “support individuals and co-ops, and the good thing is that many small Jamaican farmers already do not use hormones,” he continued.In order to capitalize on the demand for organic products on the local and international markets, Jamaican farmers should ensure that their production systems are certified organic, as many farmers are not producing organically in full compliance with organic standards, Dr. Lindsay advises.
“They have no organically formal production system, such as the European system, which even has a code which can be traced back to the farm,” he explains.
The Ministry along with the Rural Agricultural Development Agency (RADA), the Jamaica Organic Agriculture Movement (JOAM) and the Jamaica Agricultural Society will be identifying farmers in each parish who are practising organic farming or involved in some aspect of organic agriculture to bring them into the programme.
The Ministry of Agriculture will also play a lead role in the NOAEP and the National Organic Agriculture Steering Committee (NOASC), which consists of a number of agencies including JOAM and RADA. The Steering Committee will monitor and supervise the activities of the programme.