JIS News

In the 1940s, Alcan, the pioneering bauxite company in Jamaica, began acquiring property. Most of these properties were used for cattle farming, with the smaller ones used for mining in the 1950s.
Under an agreement with the Government of Jamaica for bauxite companies to reclaim lands they have mined out, Alcan, which later became West Indies Alumina Company (WINDALCo), began offering leases to farmers from the surrounding communities who could occupy and farm the lands for a small lease fee. Out of this, the WINDALCo Tenant Farming Programme was launched.
Today, some 2,000 farmers are involved in the farming programme offered by WINDALCo. “It’s one of the longer running programmes of the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI),” Sylvan McDaniel, Manager of Lands and Agriculture at WINDALCo tells JIS News.
Some 30,000 farmers have benefited from the JBI-initiated programme to grow cash crops on reclaimed bauxite lands.
Since 1996, the JBI has provided 700,000 seedlings to farmers under its programme to boost agricultural production on mined-out lands.
“The JBI, as a matter of policy, is directly facilitating programmes to get more farmers actively involved in producing crops on mined-out bauxite lands, while at the same time forging special marketing arrangements for crops grown under the programme,” explains Head of the JBI Lands Division, Dianne Gordon.
In the early days it was thought that mined-out bauxite lands were suitable mainly for livestock rearing, primarily dairy farming, and a limited range of crops. But research conducted by the JBI has proven that a number of crops can be profitably grown on these lands. Over 70 per cent of WINDALCo’s tenant farmers are in Manchester with the rest in St. Ann and St. Catherine. One acre is the smallest size offered by the company. However, a few farmers tell JIS News that they have managed to acquire, by leasing and borrowing from other farmers, additional acreage over time.
According to Mr. McDaniel, depending on the location of the land, or if you are doing livestock farming, up to nine acres can be made available. “It is really intended to augment some plots that they have for themselves. We do not normally rent large tracts of land. They are small holdings,” he explains. A small charge of $125 per acre is paid yearly by the tenant farmer.
Most farmers have chosen traditional cash crops that are known to do well on bauxite land. “These traditional crops are sweet potato, yam, cassava, corn, red peas, peanuts and others. These are traditional crops suitable for bauxite soil cultivations,” Mr. McDaniel points out.
There is a mix of farmers between 35 and 70 years of age, with a small percentage of women. “That percentage is growing.we tend to find that more women are asking for land for farming, mostly for vegetable production,” he notes.
Meet Karen Taylor. In her mid-forties, she plants sweet potato and sweet cassava on a one and a half acre plot of land in Richmond, Manchester. A farmer for 10 years, she tells JIS News that so far, “the experience is good.”
In the early days of her farming venture, being one of the first beneficiaries of the company’s reclaimed land programme, she recalls having a thriving farm with pumpkin, tomato, sweet paper, sweet potatato and sweet cassava that she managed with her spouse. She says that during the rainy periods, yields can climb as high as 3,000 or 4,000 pounds.
On the downside is the water challenge facing some farmers, and the issue of finding consistent and viable markets for their produce. Although most farms are located in rain-fed areas, farmers do encounter drought conditions that create mixed results for farmers, Mr. McDaniel points out. “It (success of the crops) varies quite a bit. It is in rain-fed areas that we lease these lands. They are not irrigated farms, so they are exposed to the vagaries of the weather,” he notes.
“But of course the Jamaican small farmer is quite a very intelligent person. They will plant crops at the time that they know they will be very successful. Sometimes we are not prepared to give them the credit about how they operate their business, but they are really very smart people,” he says.
For other farmers like Denton Hackwood, who does pepper and tomato farming on reclaimed land in Melrose Hill, Manchester, water is not an issue. He says WINDALCo supplies him with some water, which he describes as a major input for his farm, which employs the greenhouse technology. Mr. Hackwood tells JIS News that he gave up his meat shop to launch out into farming. Having done his research, he says he only wanted the land, which he obtained at favourable rates from WINDALCo, to embark on what is now a successful pepper and tomato farm. “We reap 1,600 pounds of tomato in one week,” he boasts. “Every week, we reap,” he adds.
He speaks highly about the controlled environment that the greenhouse technology affords him. “You can control when you work. I go in there five days a week. I don’t have to worry about the rain. If I have money I would really set up more. I want about four more,” he tells JIS news. Assistance from the company to its tenant farmers has varied over the years, Mr. McDaniel notes. “In earlier years there was significant amount of assistance with water supply, roadways on the properties for access, tillage service, and fertilizer scheme. There have been some changes. Today, it’s more marketing. The farmers have developed very good skills in crop and livestock production techniques, but there’s still the need for some help with marketing and we assist heavily in this area,” he says.
WINDALCo has two agricultural extension officers who assist farmers on husbandry matters. “We assist them with the introduction of new varieties and new production methods. Of course, you know that farming inputs change over time and our farmers need to keep abreast of these changes for them to remain viable. We are a source of information through our two extension officers,” Mr. McDaniel explains. The inconsistency in the market is something that the farmers complain about. “Sometimes it’s up, sometimes it’s down,” says Ramsey Mitchell, tenant farmer who has a lease on one and a half acres of reclaimed land in Albion, Manchester.
Like Miss Taylor, his parents had been tenant farmers who passed on the lease to their reclaimed WINDALCo land to him.
“Farmers have passed it (farming) down to their generations. farmers have died or come out of farming, and younger farmers come into the programme,” reveals Mr. McDaniel, highlighting how the programme has benefited several generations of Jamaicans.
Mr. Mitchell says the tenant farming arrangement has been good, despite the ups and downs. “A good business for me,” he notes, adding that he employs up to five persons at different crop times, to assist him on the farm.
He suggests that the marketing situation could become better with more networking between the farmers. “I would like to see farmers form a farmers association and help us in marketing, the whole network,” he says. In an effort to help their tenants in this regard, WINDALCo has an annual Tenant Farmers Sale Day in St Ann. “We have it two or three times for the year,” Mr. McDaniel informs JIS News. Quality goods are often made available to the public at attractively low prices. WINDALCo also uses the event to bring the produce of the tenant farmers to the attention of exporters. According to Mr. McDaniel, “over 50 per cent of the 2,000 farmers in the programme produce crops for export.”
“We continue to assist them with interfacing with the exporters to make sure that what the exporters require in terms of standards and quality, our farmers are producing. This is dovetailed into our marketing activities,” he notes.
All the costs of promoting and staging this event are absorbed by the company, Mr. McDaniel notes.
Last year, the JBI teamed up with WINDALCo on a project in St Ann to provide 98 farmers with seedlings, other inputs and irrigation. The project involved 40 acres of land under commercial pepper production at Union Hill, Rio Hoe, Riverhead, Islington, Crawl and Bromley.
With only two extension officers serving the 2,000 tenant farmers in three geographic locations, the company has had to come up with a strategic way to keep farmers abreast of new technologies to elevate the efficiency levels of their small plots.
“We tend to reach farmers in groups. The company operates demonstration plots when we are doing variety introduction. From time to time, we also have to do introduction of chemicals and we operate trials on their (farmers) holdings,” Mr. McDaniel tells JIS News.
For those tenant farmers in livestock, Mr. McDaniel says that the state of the industry, and praedial larceny have made it difficult for WINDALCo, and the farmers. “That used to be quite a business until a couple years ago, but now we are not in a position to supply the needs of our tenant farmers,” he laments. “There are just not enough cattle in the island. We’re working hard at improving the numbers. It’s going to take years, but we’re determined to do so,” he tells JIS News.
Mr. McDaniel says that persons seeking leases should live in the area and close to the land they are leasing from WINDALCo. “If you live in a community, you can consult with the tenant agents for that area.
They will in turn get in touch with our extension officers. Our extension officers are also in the area, so you can make direct contact as well,” he informs.As for the future of the WINDALCo tenant farming programme, Mr. McDaniels says the company will continue to support the programme, but emphasises that praedial thieves must be put out of business.

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