The Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) has embarked on a 'National Red Peas Planting Project' aimed at revitalizing local production and reducing the high import bill for the commodity. Under the initiative, some 150 hectares of red peas will be planted over a 12-month period, to increase productivity by 30 per cent over the first year of the project, and grow steadily in ensuing years.
Production of red peas, traditionally a staple in the Jamaican diet, has dropped significantly over the years, with 90 per cent of the approximately seven million pounds of the produce consumed locally each year being imported into the island. Some 6.2 million pounds of red peas were imported in 2011. President of the JAS, Senator Norman Grant, speaking at the official launch of the project on September 3 at the organisation’s downtown Kingston headquarters, informed that in 1999, a total of 1,669 tonnes of red peas were produced from 1,569 hectares and by 2008, the production had plunged to 506 tonnes from 468 hectares, which was the lowest level in more than a decade.
He said while hectares under cultivation grew to 792 last year, to boost production to 905.5 tonnes, this was still not enough to meet the demand for the staple and for the country to be self-sufficient in the production of the commodity. "Therefore, we are going to be looking where the programme can contribute to a growth trend, so that by 2020 our production can be at least…1,700 tonnes and by 2030, we can get up to about 4,000 tonnes," Mr. Grant said, which will eliminate the need for imports.
The objectives of the project are to provide a steady increase in the production of red peas in a structured manner; assist small farmers and farm families with boosting their earning potential; create jobs and help to generate real growth in the economy; and significantly reduce the dependence on importation of the staple. Senator Grant noted that the pilot phase of the project started in July 2012 in Portland where 100 quarts of red peas were distributed to 50 registered farmers, each receiving two quarts for planting. Under the national programme, the JAS will extend the distribution to other parishes, providing 1,300 quarts of red peas for planting across the island. "When the red peas comes in, the farmers will be required to pledge some of that production back to the JAS for our National Red Peas Bank,” he said, adding that 600 farmers are also to be trained in red peas production under the project.
In the meantime, State Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Ian Hayles encouraged Jamaicans to buy “whatever we produce here in Jamaica". He thanked the JAS for “being proactive”, noting that the initiative was “a step in the right direction”, adding that if local production of red peas is ramped up, the country will be less dependent on imports. More importantly, he noted that reducing imports will also lessen the impact of certain health risks, citing the discovery of rat droppings and animal carcasses in shipments earlier this year.
He further pledged the support of the Ministry “in helping to ensure that we can reduce the level of imports, not just for red peas, but every other thing that comes on our ports to enter this country”.