The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries signed an agreement with Caribbean Broilers to immediately put 800 acres of land into sorghum production, at Amity Hall in St. Catherine. Planting began under the project, which is among the first initiatives being undertaken in the establishment of the Ministry’s flagship Agro Parks concept.
Speaking at the signing and post-Sectoral press briefing at the Ministry’s Hope Garden’s location, portfolio Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, said the collaboration came about after observing Caribbean Broilers successful cultivation of sorghum. The company also needed more land for production. "The opportunity presented itself… and we can provide some of those lands. Over the past few weeks, we have done quite a lot of land preparation in readiness for their beginning to sow the seeds almost immediately,” he explained.
“This is going to be a real fillip to our being able to substitute some of that US$300 million that we spend to bring in grains…this is going to be able to make a dent in that,” Mr. Clarke asserted.
Sorghum is one of a numerous species of grasses, which is raised for grain and many of which are used as fodder plants. Basic infrastructure will be put in by the Ministry, such as drainage and irrigation, with the land being leased by Agro Invest Corporation, an agency of the Ministry.
The Ministry will be implementing nine agro parks over the next three years at a cost of US$8 million. The parks will contribute to employment; increase agricultural output; reduce the national food import bill, and stimulate food exports. The project is being funded in part by the European Union, with the Agro Investment Corporation and the National Irrigation Commission providing infrastructure development and irrigation facilities, respectively.
Among the crops being contemplated for production include some 1,700 acres of sorghum to reduce grain imports for animal feed, which is currently underway. Some 689 acres of onions are to be planted shortly, to reduce the import bill for onions by approximately 45 per cent. Additionally, 550 acres of legumes, vegetables, tubers and condiments will be cultivated.
In his contribution to the 2013/14 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives on May 8, Minister Clarke noted that significant production activities are already taking place at New Forest/Duff House and Yallahs, as two new irrigation schemes have been completed for these areas.
“The value that these agro parks will add is to orientate production to defined markets by linking existing farmers to private sector buyers. This work is currently being done, and therefore, for all intents and purposes, these two agro parks will come on stream this year,” Mr. Clarke said. Agro Parks, targeted specifically at import substitution, are being developed through a tri-partite partnership involving the Government, farmer/investors, and the private sector.
The Government is making the lands available with the requisite infrastructure for leasing to farmers/investors, who will be responsible for working capital and agricultural production. The Agro Parks concept is aimed at putting some 8,000 acres of idle lands into production, and are being sited at: Plantain Gardens and Yallahs, St. Thomas; Amity Hall and Hill Run, St. Catherine; Ebony Park and Spring Plain in Clarendon; New Forest/Duff House, St. Elizabeth/Manchester; Ettingdon, Trelawny; and Meylersfield in Westmoreland.