Pick an orange from its branch or bite into a piece of succulent jerked chicken and you might never think about the science and skill it took to provide you with those items, but there are several schools in Jamaica dedicated to passing on the knowledge required to bring a product from farm to plate.
Specialist training in agricultural education is provided at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE), in Portland; Knockalva and Sydney Pagon (formerly Elim) agricultural schools, in Hanover and St. Elizabeth, respectively. CASE provides training at the tertiary level, while Knockalva and Sydney Pagon focus on secondary level education.
Agricultural training is also provided through the HEART Trust/National Training Agency (HEART/NTA), most notably the Ebony Park HEARTAcademy in Clarendon.
First year students at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE), Andreen Anderson (left) and Georgian Rowe feed Jamaica Hope calves at the Cattle Unit at CASE.
“Agriculture is one of the most rewarding areas of study,” says final year student at CASE, Edward Samuels, who recalls wanting to be involved in agriculture from childhood.
“Growing up in a farming community in Hanover, and growing up with my father who is a farmer, I would always be enticed to the farm, whether it be livestock or crops. I used to help him with the animals and help him with the crops, and then I just developed a love for it,” he recounts.
This is Samuels’ third stint at CASE, having completed two other courses of study entering his Bachelor of Technology in Agricultural Production and Food Systems Management programme. He describes the area of study as interesting, marketable and relevant.
Research and Outreach Co-ordinator, Faculty of Agriculture, at CASE, Dr. Robert Logan, says CASE offers training in the broad areas of agriculture, which entails production of plants and animals for food and recreation; the processing and marketing of food; and training and education. He says most students gravitate towards to the Associate of Science Degree in General Agriculture, from which they can then branch off into specialisations.
Lecturer and Specialist in Poultry Science at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE), Norman Thompson (right), instructs students Amelia Williams (left) and Myron Black, in administering feed and water to baby chicks in the brooding area of the Poultry Unit at CASE.
He cautions that agriculture must not be seen as just farming or raising of livestock, but that it is a diverse field.
“It means, therefore, that we need quite a lot of specialists -the researcher, the planner, the production technologist, specialists like veterinarians, animal nutritionists, persons who process and market foods, and of course the educators who train persons to do all of that,” he says.
Recognising the diversity of the agricultural field, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is also seeking to increase the range of offerings in that field of study in Jamaica.
First year students in General Agriculture at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE), Oldane Thorney (left) and Jodiann Jones, prepare feed for cattle at the college’s Cattle Unit.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Donovan Stanberry says while agricultural schools have been making strides in providing agricultural education, the Ministry wants the programmes to be stepped up even more to meet the new direction in which the Ministry is going.
He says the Ministry is pushing for more value-added activities, such as post-harvest processing, packaging and marketing, instead of just focusing on primary production. He notes that greater infusion of technology and modern techniques is also needed at the primary production level.
“All of that thrust, both to increase efficiency at the farm level and this value chain approach, require new skill sets, new knowledge, and that is precisely why we are saying that our educational institutions that provide agricultural education must equip themselves to respond to that new challenge,” Mr. Stanberry explains.
Among the areas the Ministry is working with the Education Ministry and other agencies to improve offerings in are: marketing, value-added processing, water management, traceability, veterinary sciences and greenhouse technology.
Likening agriculture to medicine, Mr. Stanberry also stresses the need for retraining. He notes that in the same way doctors, pharmacists and other medical practitioners have to upgrade themselves each time new innovations occur in the field, farmers and others in the field of agriculture must submit themselves to retraining, hence the importance of the agricultural schools being responsive.
Second year student pursuing an Associate of Science Degree in General Agriculture, Charlotte McKenzie, has grasped the Ministry’s vision for more value-added activities in agriculture. She dreams of running her own pig-rearing business, but meat production is not her primary focus.
“You can use the faeces to generate energy, so I can make biogas which will help me to (slow) the depletion of natural resources,” she explains.
She is also encouraging other young persons to consider agriculture a viable career option, as she says it allows persons the freedom to chart their own course by becoming entrepreneurs.
Mr. Samuels also believes that study in the agricultural field can equip one to enter almost any other area.
“You deal with the sciences, you deal with the arts, you deal with everything you can think of. So, Agriculture is so wide that if you choose to do agriculture and then later you choose to do something else, you are well covered,” he argues.
Both students would like to see more technology being introduced as part of the courses offered by the various agricultural schools.
“CASE is now moving in that direction.they have two greenhouses on campus and this opens up a new opportunity for students going out into the working world where many of them might be asked to be middle managers and supervisors and they will be exposed to operations like these. So, the technology side is very important and I’m happy that CASE is now moving in that direction,” says Mr. Samuels.
Meanwhile, Dr. Logan says that while students must be trained to handle the current realities of the field, he believes agricultural education must go even further. He argues that the future of agricultural education must be to “increase the capacity of the graduates for innovation and for research”.
“Every farmer, every extension agent must be an innovator, must be a researcher. And in that way, agriculture can be more rewarding and thus more young people will be attracted to the sector,” he adds.