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The Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), yesterday (December 13), recognized top small farmers and agri-business partners for their efforts in revitalizing Jamaica’s agricultural production.
Speaking at the awards ceremony at Hope Gardens, Agriculture and Lands Minister, Roger Clarke said the achievements of farmers were testament to their ability to be innovative and enterprising.
The farmers and partners were awarded for their participation and achievements under two sustainable agricultural programmes, co-established by the Government and the USAID, the Rural Enterprise, Agriculture and Community Tourism (REACT) project, which followed the Jamaica Business Recovery Programme.
According to Minister Clarke, the “REACT project, which started in 2005, is a four-year initiative funded by the USAID.building on past successes in advancing environmentally and economically sound business practices, to stimulate enterprise development across poor rural communities”.
“By promoting the transition from subsistence to entrepreneurial activities, REACT will increase incomes, improve the well-being of beneficiaries, strengthen the voice of local communities and expand the rural economy, while protecting the natural resource base,” he added.
The majority of the farmers awarded were, according to Deputy Chief of Party to the REACT project, Robert A. Reid, earning between $500,000 and $2.5 million per quarter.
The focus of REACT is the stimulation of small rural enterprises and incorporating them into the vale chain, which Minister Clarke said, “fits nicely with the Government’s focus on rural development”.
“In 2006, the project, under its agri-business component.has been providing technical assistance and training to over 100 open field demonstration horticultural farmers, nine demonstration greenhouse farmers and 150 small poultry farmers in the parishes of St. Catherine, Clarendon, Manchester, St. Ann, St. Elizabeth and St. Thomas,” he said.
REACT has been focused on the introduction of improved production practices and appropriate technologies. These include land preparation methods, the use of seedling trays, hybrid seeds and starter solutions, proper plant densities, drip irrigation and water management, pesticide selection and weed identifications, as well as crop rotation and production and post-harvest scheduling.
Minister Clarke informed that in the case of poultry, the technical assistance provided has been focused on production practices, health and disease control, food safety, slaughtering and processing, marketing and record keeping.
The principal government partner in the two programmes is the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), through its extension officers. The Ministry of Health’s Public Health Department has provided guidance in food safety, with 27 farmers acquiring food handler’s permits and are on their way to obtaining certification of processing facilities. Industry partners helping to strengthen the business side of these rural enterprises are AGROGRACE, Jamaica Livestock Association and Hi Pro Ace Farm and Garden Centre. In addition, the Jamaica Egg Services Limited, in collaboration with the Jamaica Egg Farmers Association organized training for small poultry farmers in egg marketing, grading and standards.
“The success of these programmes depends on forging key partnerships with a cross-section of people with different expertise, resources and ideas. Today we are recognizing the partners whose participation has resulted in measurable transformation of the sector,” said USAID Deputy Missions Director, James Harmond.
Farmers recognized at the event were: Ewart Blackwood and Eric McNee from St. Catherine; Cecil Campbell and Ervin Francis from Clarendon; Conrad Bailey and Debbie Facey-Simpson from St. Elizabeth; the Christiana Potato Growers Co-operative Association and Winston Taylor from Manchester; Margaret Walker, St. Ann; Devon McKen, St. Thomas; and Adrian Williams, St. Andrew.