$500-m sugar housing boost

BY H G HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

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DENBIGH, Clarendon — Sugar workers and their families in Springfield, Clarendon are to benefit from improved housing and sporting facilities starting this financial year, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has announced.

At the same time, Simpson Miller, while delivering the main address on the final day of the 60th Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show in the parish yesterday, outlined a list of things that the sector needs to accomplish, among them the establishment of eight agro parks.

But it was the sweet news of improved housing and sporting benefits that attracted applause from the small crowd at the main stage, at a time when most others seemed preoccupied with images on a huge television screen erected by sponsors Digicel close by, featuring action from the Olympic Games in London.

"An important part of this rural development strategy is housing. One of the urgent areas of need is housing for our sugar workers, and under the Sugar Transformation Programme we will be making concrete investments in improving housing and sports facilities in sugar-dependent areas," Simpson Miller said.

"I am pleased to tell you that right in this parish we will be spending well over $500 million to resettle sugar workers in Springfield. Some 209 individuals, comprising 88
families will benefit from moving
into new facilities where formerly they lived in barracks," the prime minister disclosed.

"I expect delivery of the sporting facilities this financial year and the housing solution in the next financial year," she added.

Turning to the development of the agro parks, Simpson Miller said that much attention will be placed on this area of the agriculture sector's advancement, which will endeavour to attract new blood.

"Over the next two years we will be spending some $750 million to develop eight agro parks. These agro parks will comprise sub-divided economic plots leased predominantly to young farmers and outfitted with critical infrastructure such as irrigation, post-harvest facilities and tractors. Production in these agro parks will be driven by market demands," she said.

Simpson Miller said that agriculture's growth must be built on the basis of partnerships with government and other sectors of the society, with the full involvement of farmers, exporters, processors and traders.

Agriculture land, she stated, would be made available to enterprises and entrepreneurs who want to engage in the sector.

"Agriculture gives me new hope," she said. We (government) continue to overhaul our extension services to provide technical guidance to our farmers. We are enriching our research programmes through partnerships with academia and the private sector.

"We will continue to provide critical post-harvest infrastructure to the private sector. As part of this partnership, government will be delivering, through a lease arrangement, a new pepper processing facility to GraceKennedy. The facility is situated in Hounslow (South West St Elizabeth) and was constructed at a cost of approximately $53 million. A packaging house, constructed at a cost of $34 million, is now available to the private sector at Christiana (North East Manchester).

Agriculture, the prime minister insisted, must play a big role in
the re-development of communities, from which citizens can derive major benefits.

"Excited as I am about the prospects of economic growth in Jamaica, I am more elated at the prospects for rural development. Agriculture is about more than putting food on the table. A strong agriculture sector means more income for our farmers and more money in circulation for our rural districts. It also means better quality of life for our rural people."

She expressed concern about the drought in the United States which analysts have predicted will inevitably affect food prices in Jamaica, and urged Jamaicans to produce their way to agricultural prosperity.

"Our foundation is deeply rooted in agriculture. Although agriculture's contribution to the gross domestic product has fallen from 12 per cent in 1962 to 6.6 per cent presently, due to various factors, including diversification of the economy, agriculture remains a critical pillar of our economic lives.

"We must do something about our food import bill of US$900 million. Our Independence will mean very little if as a nation we cannot feed ourselves," Simpson Miller said.




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