Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Dr Christopher Tufton says the agricultural sector is currently receiving more favourable attention from financial institutions.
Speaking at an Arable lands Irrigated and Growing for the Nation (ALIGN) business meeting last week at the St Dorothy's Anglican Church in Church Pen, St Catherine, the minister said that while he is yet to be comfortable with the number of ideas that the financial sector is willing to fund, they are progressing in the right direction.
"Financial institutions are now taking a second look at the sector. The commercial banks, in one form or another, are putting together packages, and we have been talking to them about specific investment areas within industry, such as rice, cane and other crops that we believe have critical market possibilities, and they are gradually coming around," the minister told the audience.
He advised the farmers and personnel from the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), the Agricultural Investment Corporation (AIC), and the National Irrigation Commission (NIC), that the investments that have been put in the sugar industry, and with further investments to come, the farmers need to plant more cane, so that the investors can have a ready supply of the crop.
"Within the next two to three years, if we go according to plan, we will need every ounce of land that can grow cane to get back into cane. And, the private farmers are going to be critical to that, because the estates have so much and no more land for planting," Tufton said, emphasising that there are many opportunities available in the sugar industry.
The meeting was organised to engage farmers in St. Catherine and areas of Clarendon who jointly have 4,000 acres of arable land, which are to be put into production shortly. Crops to be grown are rice, sugar cane, vegetables and cash crops.
At the meeting, farmers had an opportunity to interact with technocrats from the NIC, RADA, AIC and financial institutions, in order to gather information to assist them to start growing the crops.
In February 2009, Tufton introduced the ALIGN initiative with the objective of revolutionising agriculture, by re-engaging all un-utilised and under-utilised land with irrigation infrastructure back into production.
The Minister met with farmers in the various irrigation districts islandwide, and to date, this initiative has seen the return of approximately 7,000 acres of land into cane, vegetable and cash crop production, mainly in St Catherine in areas such as Bernard Lodge and Bushy Park, St. Catherine, and in Clarendon.