Sun | Jan 20, 2019

JSIF water system success leads to storage challenge

Published:Wednesday | April 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Fruit and vegetables reaped by farmers who participated in the Jamaica Social Investment Fund's drip irrigation project are laid out on a table, with water tanks in the background.
JSIF Managing Director Omar Sweeney.

Dawn Powell, a retired teacher and farmer from Banton Town in Top Hill, St Elizabeth, says the introduction of drip irrigation to 85 farms has "turned around" the lives of local farmers.

But with the initiative, a new problem has arisen - a periodic glut when too much of one crop is on the market.

Powell says most of the farmers have been able to expand their farms to a full half an acre - the area of ground covered by the drip irrigation system implemented by JSIF, the Jamaica Social Investment Fund, which has replaced the watering of crops by hand.

The production of melons, pepper, scallion and other crops has doubled and, in some cases, tripled. And now the local farmers' association is seeking funding for storage as one answer to their dilemma.

The drip irrigation project itself was financed from a $9-million grant under the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI). The farmers were provided with irrigation lines, drip kits, 1,000 gallon water-storage tanks and tools for harvesting their crops.

They were also exposed to new farming techniques, food-safety practices, business management, record keeping and marketing strategies.

Seeking to replicate the impact of such projects in other communities, JSIF has issued a new call for micro and small enterprises in need of grant support for their businesses.

JSIF Managing Director Omar Sweeney said 50 micro and small enterprises from 19 eligible communities - including new businesses - can apply for financing ranging anywhere from $1.5 million to $25 million. The application deadline is Monday, April 30.

Funding for the new call is sourced under the Integrated Community Development Project, a US$42-million government project backed by the World Bank and being implemented by JSIF from May 2014 to May 2020.

While JSIF spends about 70 per cent of its funding - a mix of loans and grants - on improving infrastructure in targeted communities, it has also introduced programmes intended to improve the standard of living of community members.

Under the current call for proposals, the applicants must be from either York Town, Curatoe Hill/Canaan Heights and Treadlight in Clarendon; Retirement, Anchovy, Barrett Town, Granville and Mount Salem in St James; Majesty Gardens, Rose Town, Greenwich Town/Newport West, Rema/Wilton Gardens, Maxfield Park, Hannah Town, Denham Town and Tivoli Gardens in Kingston & St Andrew; Steer Town in St Ann; Russia in Westmoreland; and Spanish Town Central/Ellerslie Pen in St Catherine.

"The call is open to existing businesses and start-ups, that is, feasible business ideas, and existing businesses that are in operation and need machinery and other input," said Sweeney.

"The enterprises do not require matching equity. However, where this is demonstrated, it sends the right signal that the entrepreneur is looking to establish a bona fide operation," he said.

Sweeney also noted that JSIF had a track record for creating successful enterprise in communities that fall under its mandate of poverty alleviation.

The drip irrigation project is now counted among those successes, but the Financial Gleaner was unable to ascertain up to press time whether JSIF would itself be answering the call of farmers like Dawn Powell for further assistance with storage facilities for their crops.

The JSIF officials were said to be in a meeting with the World Bank.

The REDI programme has invested in more than 100 interventions projects in the agriculture and tourism sectors, according to Sweeney, who notes that 71 of them related to businesses engaged in greenhouse crop production, pig rearing, chicken rearing, roots and tubers, cocoa production, honey production, tours and gifts, agro-processing and craft.