JIS News

Ask Roy Kennedy, a 65-year old life-time tenant farmer from Manchester what it is like to be actively engaged in agriculture and he will say “it is a very trying profession, subject to many hardships, but at times it can have some really good rewards”.Mr. Kennedy has quite successfully grown a wide range of medium and short-term crops on lands that were previously mined out and restored by the West Indies Alumina Company (WINDALCO).
“I started farming from I was a child from the time when they had a hoe called “number naught” to “number one”, I watched both my father and mother work and I said to myself one day I will be doing the same thing. As a matter of fact all five of my children have turned out to be farmers in keeping with our strong family tradition,” he says.
Mr. Kennedy informs that for quite some time now he has been farming on land leased to him by the bauxite company at a very “inexpensive rate”.
“I have grown sweet potato, corn, cassava, peanut and right now I have a drum of dry corn to take up out of the field and this I intend to do by sometime next week. I am planning to prepare more land on which to replant a similar crop as well as some yam, Irish potato and peas,” he says.
Mr. Kennedy outlines some of the steps that have to be taken in order to ensure a successful crop. “The road as a farmer is not easy because to pay the tractor to plough is costly and those who are old like me have to use our own manpower to till the soil and some crops like yam takes like a year to come in,” he says.
He recalls some of the personal achievements that have occurred along the winding road that he has travelled on his way to becoming a master farmer.
“The biggest crop that I have ever caught was a mixture of sweet potato and cassava, even now in the Mandeville market one can get $40 per pound, a few weeks ago I dug up over 300 pound weight, the second time I went into the field I took out another 400 pound weight and right at this time there should be a further 400 pound weight, maybe more not less,” he says.
However, it has not been a bed of roses as Mr. Kennedy recalls the devastating impact that Hurricane Ivan had on his farm.
“I lost up to one and a half acres of sweet potato as well as gungo peas, to date we have not received much by way of official assistance but still we are resilient. We believe in the good lord and we continue. Another challenge that we as farmers face in that section of the parish is that relating to availability of water and of course the issue of praedial larceny, but as I said before we as farmers will always find a way,” he says.
Meanwhile, female farmer Ena Atkin of Richmond District tells JIS News her experience of growing produce in the bauxite belt.
“Farming is my one and only livelihood, it is not always easy as even the other day with the passage of the hurricane I lost over two acres of cassava, generally I alone do most of the work, ” she indicates.
She explains that as a woman it is always a joy to be able to plant something and see it mature. “The first time I started out in cassava I was able to reap over 3,000 pound weight and the second time it was a similar amount the storm was a real setback and even at this point although I have access to land thanks to WINDALCO I still am searching for some capital to reinvest and restart my cultivation on a much wider scale,” she says.
“I have to go along a little, little at a time because as a farmer many times one has to depend on one’s self. In my case I don’t have a husband and I am there from Monday till Saturday, the only day I don’t go over to my field is Sunday which is the day I go to church,” Ms. Atkin says.
“I lease the land from WINDALCO and this to me has been a very big help as without it I would not have anywhere to cultivate,” she adds.
“As you know it takes roughly a year and a half for the crop to be ready, the first thing that I do once I have cleared the land is to get the tractor to do some ploughing and then I get some labourers and my hoe and dig some trenches in which I plant cassava sticks.the sticks come from the other plots that I have cultivated. As a matter of fact, I even give sticks to a lot of other persons from around the community who are interested in doing farming,” she explains.
“The market for cassava is not bad as I am able to sell to a lady who in turn sells it to a company that does exports,” she notes.
“In these trying times, farmers have to encourage each other it is always a good feeling to get some returns from your labour and so we always have to say to each other go ahead and plant,” the farmer says.
Communications Officer at WINDALCO, Kayon Headley spoke to JIS News about the various issues relating to land restoration and use. He says that over the years a special “convention” in relation to the speedy restoration of mined out land has been developed by the company.
“Our land reclamation and restoration programme is a part of our environmental management system, it is one of our top priorities at WINDALCO. In fact it is one of the key pillars in terms of how we conduct our business here, our total environment management system really surrounds meeting the legal requirements, protecting the environment in which we operate as well as personally improving our methodologies.we make it our priority and our commitment,” she informs.
Mrs. Headley states that the quicker the land is restored to productive use the better it is for everyone.
“Our policy was always to do it in the shortest possible time and this was long before the penalties were increased last year, right now we have a 80 per cent compliance rate which is the highest in the industry,” she points out, adding, “what this means is that farmers in the area now have somewhere that they can lease and do their production, it is about providing additional opportunities for the communities, it is about areas for growth and development and that is what we are about in a nutshell”.
Mrs. Headley explains that the approach taken by the company is one of continual improvement. She further points out that the company intends to maintain the focus on certain critical programmes in its mining and operating area.
“Certainly we have not decreased our support to the community and to the environment and to people’s development coming out of the transition that took place three years ago, we are moving on,” she says.
Turning to the general approach that is normally used to sensitise “new communities” about impending mining activities, Mrs. Headley outlines the steps that are taken by the WINDALCO team.
“The process is to make the community aware of what is going to happen long before the mining begins so through our very vibrant employee and community relations team supported fully by all our other departments involved such as lands and agriculture and mines.we go in we meet with the residents we have community meetings to tell them essentially the time-line that we expect to be in their community as well as when we expect to move out. We alert them about things which they can expect such as heavier traffic flow because of the trucks going back and forth, whether we will be constructing a haul road as well as the fact that they will be seeing some strange faces so that no one will be alarmed or uncomfortable,” she says.
Manager of Lands and Agriculture at WINDALCO, Sylvan McDaniel gave further examples of the kind of activities that take place on restored mined out lands.
“We are in a big way involved in cattle breeding, we are members of the four tropical cattle associations here in Jamaica, some of our lands one would say a significant amount are leased at “pepper corn rates” to small farmers for the growth of livestock and food crops.after the lands are mined my division has the responsibility to bring back the lands to the condition that existed previously, the principle and practice is for us to do this in a very organised way not only for WINDALCO use via its cattle herds but for the small farmers, this is at the core of our activities,” he says.
Mr. Sylvan points to some of the many steps taken by WINDALCO in the restoration process. “The tendency is for us to vegetate the area with improved grass and sweet potato as the first crop the reason being that this is a form of good cover which will circumvent soil erosion. There are other crops which are also very suitable such as cassava and yams, peanut and a wide range of vegetables,” he informs.
Mr. Sylvan adds “we also have two special extension service officers who go out in the field and train prospective tenant farmers in proper practices we work alongside RADA also.general our farmers accept our advice what is good is that after the devastation of the hurricane we are now on the rebound in both livestock production and food crops,” he informs.