Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Dr. Christopher Tufton, wants to cut importation of onions into the island by half within the next two years, by increasing local production.
Speaking at the Research and Development Division of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Onion Field Day, Tuesday (August 24), at the Bodles Research Station in St. Catherine, Dr. Tufton pointed out that the country currently imports about US$4 million worth of onions each year.
Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Dr. Christopher Tufton (right), admires some of the onions reaped under a pilot project being carried out by the Ministry’s Research and Development Division, at the Bodles Research Station in St. Catherine, during the Division’s Onion Field Day, Tuesday (August 24). Also pictured is Principal Research Director in the Ministry’s Research and Development Division, Dr. Marcia Thomas.
Underscoring the disparity between the amounts of the crop produced and consumption levels, Dr. Tufton said data suggests that Jamaicans consume about 12,000 tonnes of onion each year, while last year only about 721 tonnes were produced.
“That is approximately six to seven per cent of overall [consumption] that we were able to produce locally. Now, that six to seven per cent, incidentally, represents a 60 per cent increase, last year over the year before. So, in a sense we are going in the right direction, but still very far from the target,” he explained.
Reminiscing on past years, when onions were widely produced in the island, Dr. Tufton blamed the decline on the liberalisation of markets and lack of investment in capacity building in that area. He said the research being carried out at Bodles was one of the avenues the Ministry is using to develop onion farming, by providing farmers with the necessary information on best practices.
Today’s Field Day, was intended to update the Minister and provide farmers with information on research into onion cultivation in Jamaica, being carried out at the Bodles Research Station. The eight varieties being evaluated for local production are the Cougar, Jaguar, Superex, Caballero, Texas Early Grano, Granex yellow F1 Hybrid, Granex and Sweet Onion (BZ-64).
Plant Protection Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Worrel Deidrick (left), provides information on the beet worm to (left to right) Principal Research Director in the Ministry’s Research and Development Division, Dr. Marcia Thomas and farmers, Leon King and Clinton Campbell, at the Division’s Onion Field Day, held Tuesday (August 24), at the Bodles Research Station in St. Catherine.
The Research and Development Division chose varieties with high yield potential, high resistance to disease and a long shelf life. Consumer preference was also taken into consideration, with sweeter varieties chosen, as consumers move away from the more pungent types of onions.
Agronomist at the Bodles Research Station, Morris Taylor, said the trials so far have shown that the crop can be cultivated successfully in Jamaica if factors, such as suitability of the land, are properly managed. However, he said a major challenge to the viability of onion production is post-harvest infrastructure.
“It is believed that other than the normal drying down of onion, where you lose between three to five per cent of your weight, you are likely to lose as much as 20 to 25 per cent of your income during poor post-harvest periods,” he noted.
The Bodles Research Station will research into the crop, as the trials so far have had mixed results. It is expected that more trials will give the Ministry a better opportunity to properly evaluate the project.