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Like many young Jamaican farmers in his position, Ricardo Hyman is grateful to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries’ Young Farmers’ Entrepreneurship Programme (YFEP) for providing him with the opportunity to start and sustain his own business.
Since 2009, the 36-year-old farmer from Amity Hill, St. Catherine, has been reaping the benefits of the programme which provides support for young people wishing to farm.
Mr. Hyman currently plants red peppers and escallion on five acres of land he leased from the Ministry, and admits that, if it weren’t for the support, he would have been forced to give up a long time ago.
He learnt of the programme from colleagues, and visited the Ministry’s Agricultural Support Services Project (ASSP) unit in his parish for information on how to join up. He leased the land from the ASSP, which also gave him “a roll of drip hose” (hose used in drip irrigation) and plowed the land for him, as well.
“You pay them for the plowing, after your project gets off the ground,” Mr. Hyman tells JIS News. He has been in the programme for one year now and, he says, it has helped him a lot.
“Since that time, I grow sweet potatoes, I did sorrel last December and now I growing two acres of red peppers and escallion,” he gloats.
Mr. Hyman, who has been involved in farming since he left school, admits that the profession has its challenges, but believes there is nothing else he would rather be doing. He has been able to provide for his family, including four young children, by selling red peppers and escallion to factories in St. Catherine.
Mr. Hyman admits, however, that he has been faced with a number of challenges, including praedial larceny, undesirable weather, recession and a lack of efficient technologies, so much so that he has been forced to diversify and rotate his crops in order to keep his business alive.
“It has not been easy, even with the help of the programme, so I can imagine how hard it would have been without the assistance,” he reasons.
“The drought was terrible on me for some time, especially because of how we get our water down here, and then the rains came and it flood out most of my field. So the drought had us and then came the heavy rain, sometimes you have to wonder if you really ungrateful, because sometimes you have no water and another time you get it in excess,” he explains.
Mr. Hyman says that he has been forced to plant red peppers instead of cabbage, due to praedial larcenists who often strike at nights. He said he was forced to hire security personnel to protect his crops at nights, which meant most of his earnings went back into security costs.
“I had to learn to manipulate the environment, and I realised that since I start to plant the red peppers I get more of it than the cabbage. I guess it is very hard to pick 100 pounds of pepper in the night, so that keeps away the criminals,” he reasons.
To fight praedial larceny, on a wider scale, YFEP farmers have also collaborated in acquiring a security company on their farms.
Clarendon farmer, Kirk Pennant, also admits that the YFEP has been a tremendous source of support to him in terms of technical assistance, especially irrigation and equipment.
The 31-year-old farmer, who has been involved with the programme since last year, cultivates a range of crops, including peppers, sweet potato and pumpkin, on his farm in Ebony Park, Clarendon.
He tells JIS that he has been a part of the farming profession since he graduated from his alma mater, Clarendon College. He said that it has always been a passion that led him to further his education at Elim Agricultural School, St. Elizabeth, and the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE) in Portland.
Mr. Pennant admits, however, that although the programme has provided good assistance to young farmers in terms of certain crops, it has been difficult to find the buyers for other crops.
“Most of the farmers don’t have a problem with the pepper, but if they do other crops, they have a problem in getting the market. I’ve seen people plant all two acres of sweet potato and pumpkin, and they stay in the field and spoil,” he laments. He is hoping for more assistance for young farmers in this area.
The Ministry of Agriculture embarked on the first phase of its YFEP in December, 2008, with a 50-acre plot for young farmers. The initiative was seen as one way of providing young farmers with the kind of support they could not access otherwise, particularly irrigation.
At the launch of YFEP last year, organiser Hershell Brown noted that difficulty in acquiring working capital had, for too long, prevented graduates of agricultural institutions from getting into productive agriculture. He said the Government was seeking to identify a new breed of farmers, who could rise to the challenges, and so the project was conceptualised.Under the project, the Government has also provided farm roads, office space, fencing, irrigation, assistance with credit and access to markets to the young farmers. The Ministry has also assisted with group formation and training.
The project also seeks to address the sustainability of the industry, with its aging farmers and the threat of food security in Jamaica. The objectives of the programme are: increased production and exports, reduction in the importation of foreign produce and the bolstering of employment within the sector. Targets for the programme include the establishment of at least one fully functioning farm every month.
Through the ASSP, interested youth can receive support in the form of land, access to markets, links to credit agencies and infrastructure (farm roads, office space and fencing). Applicants, however, will have to provide irrigation and the working capital (chemicals, labour).
Group formation and training is one of the special features of the programme, allowing ease of service delivery, while ensuring transference of knowledge between youths and experts in the field.
The entrepreneurship programme commenced in December, 2008 with 10 farmers cultivating a 50-acre plot in Clarendon.
Interested persons may contact Hershell Brown, Agricultural Support Service Project (ASSP) Ministry of Agriculture, Hope Gardens, Kingston 6, telephone #927-1731-41 or e-mail assp@moa.gov.jm.