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JIS News

Increased irrigation systems, hydroponics, registration of farmers to insure them against natural disasters and the use of apiculture programmes to encourage youth involvement in agriculture are just some of the systems that the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) is putting in place as it continues to deal with the challenges of food security in the country.
Director of Special Projects and Marketing at RADA, Harold Spaulding tells JIS News that food security encompasses four main elements of access. These include availability, sustainability and nutritional adequacy, which he says enables a country to assure its people of sustained access to food in the quantity and quality that they require to maintain a healthy life.
“The challenges that we face as we go about promoting strategies that will result in food security has to do with introducing new systems, which will bring increased productivity,” Mr. Harold explains.
He adds that for these systems to work it will require investments in the activities that the farmers are carrying out. In respect to irrigation he notes that in the instances where there is inconsistent rainfall, the result is a lack of water to supply the crops and animals and at this point irrigation becomes a necessary solution.
“If there is inadequate rainfall then we have a shortage in production, therefore our aim is to encourage and support the farmers to invest in irrigation, this can be a costly exercise and the extent to which the farmers can assist us as we try to enable them to produce more efficiently, but sometimes we are unable to meet what is required in terms of financing,” the Project Director informs. He further cites another challenge in the form of the improper care of fruit trees by farmers as a problem, which has resulted in diminished production. “So we really face is an uphill task even when we provide them with material to take care of these trees and to manage them in a way so that the trees grow laterally so that they can stand on the ground and they can reap their breadfruits and ackee. If we could all do that we would see how much more we could have,” Mr. Harold explains.
He points to the education and transfer of technology to the farmers as the solution to this challenge. “Part of our mission is to transfer technology to farmers. Invariably some of the farmers are less than responsive to these invitations so sometime we face these problems,” he says.
Mr. Harold also advises farmers to practice better soil preservation methods. “Focus some attention on the preservation of the soil. It calls for the farmer to really engage in the setting up of barriers to protect the soil from being lost to rain,” he says.
Mr. Harold notes that the farmers should pay attention to methods such as land husbandry and avoid clearing land and digging and ploughing, thereby risking exposure to soil erosion and landslides.
The Project Director says however that all is not lost, as some farmers have been taking RADA’s advice. “We are making progress, maybe slow progress, some farmers understand and appreciate and they see the result and will put in the necessary barriers that we recommend. The stone barriers, the vegetative barriers, they will build the check dams so we can orderly take the water off the hillside or higher ground to lower levels and we can preserve the soil.
This what we are about when we talk about food security we want to be able to produce more than we are producing now,” he states.
Mr. Harold notes that these recommended practices could only result in increased production of food to feed the nation, and the country being able to survive shortage of food in periods of drought and hurricanes. Continuing he informs of plans to link farmers with feasible markets. “What we are working at assiduously is to connect our farmers in certain high production areas with processors so that this will give them a direct market, a motivation to keep producing, because they’ll know exactly where to sell,” he explains.
He notes that these plans are not only aimed at large scale farmers but also at the community level where small farmers operate cottage industries. “We want to avoid the waste of foods and fruits, whether tamarind, apples, mangoes, jack fruit, we have them once or twice for the year and after that there is nothing, so we are encouraging our farmers with incentives where we will train them in how to preserve and make use of excess productions,” Mr. Harold explained.
He cited further incentives such as helping farmers to prepare proposals to attract donor agencies. “We have groups such as in Flower Hill, St James that we helped gain assistance from the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) to do processing on cassava products and we have helped other groups of young people to use the skills that we have transferred to them to gain income and employment,” he explains. Food security also concerns the availability of technology to farmers in order to help them increase their production and Mr. Harold explains that RADA is seeking to introduce systems to farmers, which will enable them to produce twice the amount of food they now produce.
“Rather than reap 10 tonnes per hectare when you could get 20 tonnes then you would be able to have twice the amount of food, and with this being possible we would be addressing the issue of food availability,” he explains.
RADA is also seeking to increase youth involvement in agriculture and food security. “If we can have the youth have some appreciation of agriculture, in terms of the do’s and don’ts, they would also not only take up farming but also be in a position to give advise to their parents and pass on some of the knowledge,” the Project Director notes.
In addition he points to an apiculture project being implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture to address the need to increase youth involvement in the industry. “We are focusing on youth outside of school, we have an apiculture project being implemented which has a strong focus on youth. The average age of our farmers is 55 and up and without suitable replacement, the industry will suffer from lack of manpower in the long term. We are therefore encouraging young people to be a part of the production process,” Mr. Harold explains.
Not all has been negative and Mr. Harold explains that there have been some positive responses from the youth as well as from farmers trying to improve their farming methods. “From what we see good response has been coming from the young people and farmers have been making an effort to improve their production practices,” he notes.
The Project Director also points to a food security project being sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) through the governments of Italy and Jamaica.
“The project is heavily focused on irrigation and we have an interest in the farmers producing well in good and bad times and we know that sustainability must be a part of the food security strategy. We have invested in pumps, tractors, which come at great costs and so we have to monitor projects like this on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, so that we can be accountable at the end,” he points out.
In respect of the monitoring of these programmes to improve food security, Mr. Harold tells JIS News that RADA has a team that is dedicated to monitoring the programmes and gives regular reports on the success of the programmes. “They take corrective steps along the way, a fair amount of investments go into food security and we have interest in these investments so we monitor these programmes to ensure that the assistance we give is properly used and the desired results are achieved,” he informs.
A major challenge to food security in Jamaica is praedial larceny. Mr. Harold explains that this obstacle prevents and discourages farmers from producing high yields. “This prevents farmers from expanding because they fear of what will happen, while some come out of farming” he notes. He informs that a solution to combat this problem has been the registering of farmers with the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), where each registered farmer receives a receipt book with a computer generated number that uniquely identifies them so that at each point of sale the customer receives a traceable receipt.
“This is one way in which we want to address the availability and sustainability of food, because without farmers staying in business then fresh produce will become less and less and become more expensive. So we are in the process of protecting farmers against praedial thieves,” he explains. Last year, the Agricultural Produce (Amendment) Act, 2003 was passed with amendments granting the police discretionary powers to carrying out their duties as it relates to differentiating domestic goods from commercial produce.
The Act provides for the introduction of a compulsory produce receipt book system to replace the certificate system which, Minister of Agriculture Roger Clarke pointed out during the preceding debates on the Act, was a convenient means of compulsory identification of ownership and source of agricultural produce, crop and livestock which was being traded and transported within the island.
The newest area in which the industry is looking to head, in order to maximize production is hydroponics. Mr. Harold tells JIS News that farmers are being encouraged to venture into this area. “This will be producing under a protected environment, in which cultivation is carried out indoors, this practice is done in places such as Costa Rica and Israel. We are looking into this area to see how well we can maximize the areas we have under production”. He explains how the method works, “This really elevated production, the farmers wouldn’t rely on producing at the ground level but aerially based on water flowing through tubes and supporting plant life. We can produce substantially more with this method”.
Moreover farmers are being encouraged to register with the JAS and RADA in order to ensure they can keep up with the latest in technology as well as to be protected during times of disaster.
“We encourage them to come to us and register so in the event of a disaster we can quickly monitor what they had before and we can then easily process benefit relief for them than what now obtains,” Mr. Harold informs.
Furthermore in keeping with its mandate of promoting food safety, food security and export development, the Ministry will be hosting a ‘Best of Agriculture Exposition’ on September 29, to showcase the services that the Ministry offers to the public in general and the farming community in particular. The displays will highlight the Ministry’s initiatives in the areas of plant research with emphasis on the development of disease-resistant crop varieties, indigenous feed blends and improved animal husbandry.
At the first Summit of world leaders on food security in Rome in 1996, Prime Minister P.J. Patterson said food insecurity could easily worsen in the coming years as population growth and changing consumption patterns served to increase demand.
Mr. Patterson said Jamaica had long regarded agriculture as a pivotal area for growth and development. “We are stretching our resources to the limit in order to enhance efficiencies and boost present levels of production.to achieve genuine food security for the Caribbean, we will seek with our CARICOM partners to satisfy the dietary needs of our own people and to provide for a burgeoning tourist industry as well,” the Prime Minister said. This he said therefore required the region to use to its best advantage the total land resources of the region and advance its research capabilities.