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Over the moon!

Organisers hail farmers' open day as a success

Monday, June 19, 2017

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Santa Cruz , St Elizabeth — The St Elizabeth Parish Open Day, Expo and Agrifest held here on June 8 went so well that organisers are now planning to do it annually.

“It went exceptionally well and from the response we intend to make it an annual event … we are already looking forward to next year,” Nathan Samuels, St Elizabeth's agricultural manager for the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) told the Jamaica Observer Central by telephone. Samuels said the last such event was held several years ago.

The open day allowed farmers to showcase their goods in a “mini farmers' market” and the business sector to show off products including farm supplies, chemicals, animal feeds, agricultural tools and equipment, small and large farm machines, as well as four-wheel-drive pickups.

RADA — which hosted the event at the Social Development Commission (SDC) Sports Complex — also used the opportunity to provide information on ways to protect plants from diseases and pests, such as the beet army worm, and to display foods and livestock produced in St Elizabeth.

“Farmers in St Elizabeth make a major contribution to Jamaica's gross domestic product (GDP) and we believe it is important to highlight their work,” said Samuels.

He pointed out that while the southern half of the parish is famous for a wide array of vegetables and condiments/spices such as scallion, thyme and onion, the central and northern parts of St Elizabeth are also major food producers.

“The centre of the parish, including Santa Cruz, is the largest producer of peanuts in Jamaica,” said Samuels. “And northern St Elizabeth is the leader in pineapple production and a major producer of dasheen, yam, potatoes and other staples, as well as sugar cane,” he added.

Samuels said 150 farmers from 13 extension areas were recognised for their contribution to the production of crops and livestock.

And according to the government's information arm, the Jamaica Information Service (JIS), minister without portfolio with responsibility for agriculture and fisheries, J C Hutchinson, outlined his vision at the open day.

“I have a personal view on how I want to see agriculture move forward in Jamaica. Agriculture must have a base of organisations made up of farmers, and through RADA we have the Productive and Marketing Organisations (PMOs) in which all farmers can come together to market their produce,” he said.

Hutchinson also pointed to agro economic zones, comprising a grading, packaging, processing, cold storage and drying facility, adding that produce will move from the farmers to this zone where it will be graded from A to C, with Grade A going to hotels and the export market; Grade B to the markets; and Grade C, which usually remains in the field to spoil, processed for use in schools.

The minister suggested that trash from the crops could be used to make animal feed and fertiliser.

“We are looking to set up five such agro economic zones throughout the country and my vision is for one of them to be right here in St Elizabeth,” he said.

Hutchinson also repeated the ministry's plan to roll out a number of crops, including Scotch bonnet pepper, pineapple, strawberry, and sweet potato.

He said these will be done in the same way that the Irish potato and onion programmes are operated, whereby farmers are given a push-start with fertiliser and seeds and chemicals upfront, and then when the crops are reaped, the partnering companies subtract their input costs and the farmers keep the profit.

The minister said that the Government is going to help people who are interested in farming, but who have no land. Those with an interest should get in touch with RADA so that they could be added to the list of those to be placed on idle State-owned lands after the proper paperwork has been done, he said.

Some 5,000 acres of land have already been identified in south Manchester and 120 farmers have been identified to begin working on those lands, JIS reported Hutchinson as saying.

“If you have any idle land and you want to get into any of these programmes, get in touch with your RADA parish manager so when we are ready to roll it out you will be on the list. If you know of any government land that is idle, let us know, as we are prepared to put you as farmers on the land legally. We are not telling anyone to go and capture land. We will work out the documents with the land agency so you can go on the land legally,” the minister said.

— Garfield Myers/JIS

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