La agricultura sigue siendo una de las claves del crecimiento de la economía de la isla en el 2010
Agriculture continued to grow in 2010
Agriculture continued to be a key area of growth in Jamaica's economy in 2010, with an overall increase in output, as well as the introduction of several initiatives designed to thrust the sector forward.
The renewed focus on food security carried through to the end of the year, with farmers embracing new technologies, such as greenhouse farming; new farming practices and the expertise offered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to improve their yields.
Production figures reported in September showed a 5.8 per cent increase for the July to September quarter, when compared with the corresponding period for 2009, with domestic food crop production up by 13.5 per cent. The figure was also a 16 per cent increase over the April to June quarter, which was plagued by severe drought.
Minister of agriculture and fisheries Dr Christopher Tufton commended the farmers, noting that "they are true heroes in all of this".
"They are very resilient and extremely committed to what they do. This particular quarter is traditionally not a high-volume quarter; however, the data suggest that it was one of the most outstanding September quarters that we have had in the country and in the sector in a very long time," he stated.
During 2010, the ministry was also intent on ensuring that as much as possible of Jamaica's arable lands were under production.
The minister lamented that for too long most of the country's arable lands have been unaccounted for and subject to inactivity. He noted that the system of leasing arable lands tended to be ad hoc and left much to the discretion of the lessee. He also stated that too much of Jamaica's arable lands had been transformed into permanent non-agricultural areas.
To correct this, the ministry embarked on a programme to formalise the Agricultural Land Use Policy. The policy will specify how agricultural lands are to be utilised and in the case of government leases, the terms and conditions of leasing arrangements.
As part of this thrust, the ministry also launched the Arable Lands Irrigated and Growing for the Nation Programme in February to put most arable lands with access to water, back into production. Dr Tufton noted that in 2007, only 50 per cent of the 87,000 acres of land with irrigation infrastructure were used for agriculture and declared the situation as unacceptable.
In 2010, the programme targeted putting at least 5,153 acres of previously idle lands back to work.
The multi-faceted approach to improving agricultural productivity also extended to the ministry helping farmers to improve their on-farm water management, and the results were immediately seen in the improved yields in the third quarter of the year.
However, the ministry wanted to achieve an even more sustainable water management system and reached out to the Food and Agriculture Organisation for help to implement a $20-million rainwater harvesting project on a pilot basis.
The pilot rainwater harvesting project is to be executed in St Elizabeth and will involve constructing rainwater harvesting solutions on specific farms. Additionally, the ministry is working with the Jamaica Bauxite Institute and the bauxite companies to explore the use of mined out bauxite lands as catchment areas and reservoirs.
Following up on the ministry's plans to improve the country's post-harvest infrastructure, Dr Tufton opened a yam packaging facility at Wait-A-Bit, South Trelawny, on February 22. The facility serves as a collection point for yam produced in Trelawny and neighbouring areas, to be sorted, graded and packaged for the local and export markets.
Meanwhile, in September the ministry signed a lease agreement with GraceKennedy Limited for the company to operate an 8,800-square foot post-harvest and packaging facility at Hounslow in St Elizabeth. The $49-million Hounslow packaging house was constructed under the Improving Jamaica's Agricultural Productivity Project, a collaboration of the Canadian International Development Agency and the Government.
During the year, equipment valued at some $50 million was made available to farmers, as part of measures to kick-start the mechanisation process within the agricultural sector.
The equipment, funded by the United States Agency for International Development and the European Union, included laptop computers, bush cutters, generators, mist sprayers and water pumps.
In July, the ministry also received machinery valued at $60.4 million from the Government of the People's Republic of China in a bid to increase rice production in the island. The equipment included harvesters, drying machines, seedling transplanters, tractors, harrows, ploughs and trucks.
Currently, Jamaica imports all of the 100,000 tonnes of rice consumed annually, and Dr Tufton is aiming for the country to produce at least 20 per cent of Jamaica's rice consumption needs.
The ginger resuscitation project was also launched by the minister in 2010. It aims to boost production of the crop for the local and overseas markets, and address the rhizome rot disease that has been plaguing the industry since the mid-1990s.
Speaking at the launch, held at the Bodles Research Station in St Catherine, Tufton said that there was "considerable" global appeal for "superior quality" Jamaican ginger, and the intent is to increase yields to meet export demand and develop the value-added side of the product. Some 31,500 square feet of greenhouse space with 4,200 tissue culture plantlets will be provided to yield at least 336,000 disease-free seeds per crop cycle.
The three-year project is being undertaken in collaboration with the Christiana Potato Growers Co-operative Association with $12.4 million allocated for the first year.
The ministry also gave attention to the dairy, banana, sugar and cocoa sectors, which were in decline. For sugar, the Government entered a second pre-financing agreement for the 2010-2011 and 2011- 2012 crop years.
Under the arrangement, Tate and Lyle of Britain will provide US$26 million and US$20 million in partial pre-financing for the next two crop years, in exchange for 100,000 tonnes of raw sugar per annum. The Government, in collaboration with the European Union, is providing support to rehabilitate about 3,000 hectares of Cocoa, to install cocoa drying infrastructure on farms, to develop new varieties and to strengthen the farmer organisations in the sector.
In addition to technical and infrastructural support, the ministry also sought to provide farmers with the necessary financial support they needed to sustain their businesses.
The Financial Access for Responsible Members Programme, launched in 2009, started making a significant impact in 2010. The programme was designed to link approved financial institutions to committed farmers, middlemen and input suppliers by promoting best practices and limiting the need for farmers to provide traditional forms of collateral. The crops targeted under the programme include Irish potato, hot pepper, onion and sorrel.
At the end of November, the ministry launched a $50-million Glut Management Fund, geared at purchasing fresh produce in bulk for storage when there is an overabundance. The initiative, which provides a revolving loan scheme to agro-processors and suppliers at a single-digit interest rate, is funded by the Development Bank of Jamaica and administered through the ministry's Agro-Investment Corporation.
"Agro processors frequently experience shortages of raw material during low production periods, but because of working capital constraints, they have, in most instances, been unable to purchase additional quantities for storage when supplies are abundant; as such the programme is geared at addressing this problem," Dr Tufton said.
He said the fund will provide another solution to the challenges the sector faces, by creating greater efficiencies for storage of crops, providing an income to farmers and continuous supply of produce to processors. In 2009, post-harvest losses amounted to some $5 billion.
The sector was not without its challenges, with unpredictable weather and praedial larceny being the leading headaches. Production was significantly affected in the first two quarters of 2010, with drought conditions persisting for months, causing late planting and reaping as well as crop loss.
In October, the farming sector also recorded significant losses as a result of rains associated with Tropical Storm Nicole. Dr Tufton noted that the sector was set back a little over $1 billion, as a result of loss of livestock and crops as well as damage to farm roads and other infrastructure.
However, the ministry quickly began work to get farmers back into normal production by providing seeds, re-establishing plant nurseries, repairing greenhouses, and providing information. The ministry also helped with road clearance and land preparation at a subsidised cost.