Prime Minister, the Most. Hon. Andrew Holness, Thursday (December 10) officially launched the Southern Plains Agricultural Development (SPAD) Project, which seeks to increase productivity and access to markets for farmers in St. Catherine and Clarendon.
In his address at the virtual ceremony, Prime Minister Holness said the SPAD Project is a direct response to the need to repurpose lands previously under sugar cane in the parishes of St. Catherine and Clarendon.
He stated that the project targets 795 hectares of government-owned lands to be leased to farmers in the communities of Amity Hall in St Catherine and Parnassus in Clarendon.
“Small and medium-sized farmers are to make up the majority of the beneficiaries, they will have 495 hectares allocated to them. Some 15 per cent of the space, that is 124 hectares, will be reserved for women farmers and 70 acres will be set aside for young farmers,” Mr. Holness said.
He added that the planned infrastructure works will incorporate climate change measures, such as improved irrigation, drainage and flood control systems, and farm roads expansion and rehabilitation.
The project is being funded through a grant of approximately £17 million from the United Kingdom Caribbean Infrastructure Fund (UKCIF), administered by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
Mr. Holness said the project is aligned with the recently launched Essex Valley Agricultural Project in St Elizabeth, which is also funded through a grant from the UKCIF.
“We thank the United Kingdom for the generous support provided through the UKCIF, which was established to provide critical infrastructure that will lay the foundation for growth and prosperity, poverty reduction, and increase resilience to climate change in the Caribbean,” he said.
For his part, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Floyd Green, said the project, through the provision of an irrigation infrastructure, will provide adequate water supply, irrigation and drainage services, along with the appropriate agricultural marketing solutions, “to ensure that we are developing a socially inclusive gender-equitable and climate-sensitive agricultural sector”.
“Under this project, we will dig three wells, and already one has been completed and we are very happy that with that one well we have reached 50 per cent of our targeted daily water supply. The second well is already 90 per cent completed and the team tells me that in another few weeks, maybe right in time for Christmas, we will hit water. We will commence the digging of the next well in January 2021,” Mr. Green said.
Additionally, the Minister said they have started to organise farmers and farming groups to ensure that they can garner the benefits of this project.
“We have started to give them training in relation to agri-enterprise, we have started to help them in relation to technology and research and we have already identified the crops that we believe are best suited for this area. Already, we are looking at onions, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes and hot peppers,” he noted.
Mr. Green said the Government is working to ensure that a number of farmers benefit from the Matching Grant Scheme, which comes as a part of this project.
Meanwhile, British High Commissioner to Jamaica, His Excellency Asif Ahmad, said the project is a tangible demonstration of the United Kingdom’s commitment to provide development assistance right across the globe.