The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is training agriculture extension officers to combat the dreaded beet armyworm, which is affecting onions and escallion cultivation in South St. Elizabeth.
The training comes against the recent outbreak of the disease, resulting in the destruction of some 45 hectares of crops valued at approximately $31 million.
Some 20 Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) extension officers are benefitting from the intensive and interactive nine-day ‘train the trainers’ workshop, which commenced on Monday, March 18, at the Junction Guest House in St. Elizabeth.
The training, being undertaken in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), is expected to empower some 150 farmers to deal with the pest.
Chief Technical Director in the Ministry, Dr. Marc Panton, in his address at the opening session, said the training is important in providing an integrated approach to managing the pest.
“Everybody knows about the quality of our onions, which are in great demand,” Dr. Panton said.
“The reality of the challenge is that we are now being attacked by a pest … and we must find a way to counter the attack,” he added.
He said that while climate change is among the causes of the outbreak of the beet armyworm, “a significant portion of the challenge of this pest really comes down to management, proper practices, proper technical rotation, proper application and the timeliness of application.”
Dr. Panton said that onion is one of the crops being targeted under the agro parks project, being undertaken by the Government, which will provide the opportunity for shared services in areas of extension, post harvest management and land tillage, and therefore drive efficiency in production.
He argued that once the methodology from the training is understood and imparted to the farmers, then the cultivation of onions and escallion should be significantly improved.
“I believe, firmly, that we can produce quality and quantity onions because
St. Elizabeth has always had pride of place for onions and escallion … and we must now seek to engage the farmers and get them to do what is right,” Dr. Panton stated.
The training comes under the National Beet Armyworm Management Programme, which is a two-year initiative being undertaken through $20.25 million in funding from the FAO.
The project will see the FAO providing expertise and inputs to train extension officers and farmers using farmer field schools and demonstration plots.
By Glenis A. Rose, JIS Reporter