The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has launched four critical training manuals to guide farmers in the best practices of soil and water management, thereby raising the level of awareness, increasing crop yield and increased earnings.
The manuals will be disseminated to Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) extension officers, who will in turn provide guidance for farmers.
Speaking at the launch at the Ministry’s Old Hope Road offices, portfolio Minister, Hon. Dr. Christopher Tufton said, “it is an issue that we have discussed, it’s an issue that we have been lobbied on, by a number of stakeholder groups and it is something that we take seriously."
He argued that for many years the country’s low agricultural productivity has been linked to the nutrient level of the soil, with Jamaica having a wide range of soil conditions due to the variability in parent materials, topography and rainfall patterns across the island. He noted that of the current 176 soil types across the island, Bonnygate Stony Loam, which is the most prevalent, is shallow, rocky and has limited depth.
“Therefore, these manuals will raise the bar, the level of awareness and the appropriate management practices that should be adopted to ensure high yielding soil. Different soils have different qualities and these qualities determine the level of the soil inherent potential to sustain biological productivity, maintain environmental quality, and promote plant and animal health. The four manuals will seek to provide data to address these and other concerns,” the Minister said.
The manuals include: ‘Soil Health – Assessment and Management’; ‘On-Farm Irrigation and Water Use Efficiency’; ‘Soil Fertility and Crop Nutrient’; and ‘A Technical Soil Guide for St. Elizabeth’.
Meanwhile, Dr. Tufton said the Ministry has attempted to address the problem of low crop yields by equipping its analytical laboratory to give capability to greater soil analysis, plant and water samples.
“This service is readily available to all farmers and institutions engaged in the practice of agriculture. It enables them to know the nutrient status of their soils, and serves as a basis for sound advice in the area of soil fertility management with specific reference to the management of saline and sodic soils, the controlling of soil reaction, soil nutrient status and the monitoring of water quality,” he explained.
Speaking with JIS News, farmer and Chairman of the Soil Health Steering Committee, Mark Brooks assured that the manuals are farmer-friendly. “It’s not a scientific manual; it’s done in a way to be understood…it is in a simple structure for use in a practical way,” he noted.
Mr. Brooks pointed out that soil health is a new concept, which was defined in the 1990s, but that it is “the key” to efficient agricultural production.