Christopher Serju | End stereotype of dumb farmer
Monday's lead story and its headline 'Illiteracy danger: Stakeholders say lack of education training hindering farmers' is unfortunate, painting as it does a patronising and inaccurate picture of a hard-working group of professionals.
"I believe illiteracy is one of the main drawbacks as it relates to farmers ... and the illiteracy, along with the fact that they refuse to change, are [sic] some of the hindrances in the parish," Deputy Superintendent of Police Paul Bernard is quoted as saying during a recent Gleaner Municipal Forum in St Elizabeth.
Coming from a high-ranking member of the officer corps of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, such a statement is likely to find traction with others of like mind who are clueless about the trying circumstances under which our farmers toil.
This is evidenced by the input from a local justice of the peace, Dr Lynden Rose, who is clearly out of touch with the reality of agriculture not only in St Elizabeth, but in general.
"You need trainers on the ground, especially in the agricultural sector. You need trainers in special farming techniques, in the new methodologies," is one of the quotes attributed to Dr Rose.
Well, here is some breaking news for both Dr Rose and DSP Bernard: Jamaican farmers have been - and are still being - trained in new technologies to address a wide range of challenges to their livelihood. In St Elizabeth, where the beet armyworm has wreaked havoc with scallion and onion, the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), especially, has developed an early-detection system.
The farmers are now aware that the proliferation of a certain moth species is a sure sign that the flying insects are in search of hospitable environments to lay eggs, from which hordes of the dreaded 'eating worms' will emerge. They have been schooled in effective mitigation strategies, which, when implemented, have been successful in reducing the devastation of their crops.
The New Forrest-Duffs facility on the border of St Elizabeth and Manchester is one of the success stories of the agro park initiative.
That RADA has been understaffed for years and hard hit by lack of resources to effectively carry out the necessary extension that would result in sustainable agricultural production at competitive levels cannot be denied. However, this has not prevented the agency from getting farmers to better understand, and deal with, the new challenges from pests and diseases.
Farmers routinely use mobile phones to capture pictures of strange insects and plant mutations which they send to their RADA officers, who are able, sometimes, to advise within minutes whether or not the insect is crop-friendly.
Farmer field schools have been used for years to educate farmers in Jamaica. This is where RADA, in collaboration with other agencies, meets with a group of farmers on a property owned by one of them to carry out practical demonstrations in addressing not only problems, but in showcasing agricultural best practices.
THE GREATEST OBSTACLE
Chemicals are integral to any aspect of agriculture, and local farmers are now able to access detailed instructions in the proper use and application of these from local farm stores. Outside of natural disasters, the greatest obstacle to farming in Jamaica, as it was at the time of our political independence, continues to be the failure of the police to arrest farm theft, which, by my estimation, is now in excess of J$10 billion per annum.
My question for DSP Bernard: Is it illiteracy on the part of our hard-working policemen and women about how to apprehend and prosecute thieves why praedial larceny is such a successful industry, the impact of which has farmers fluctuating between poverty and insanity?
For Dr Rose, I have this proposition: Why don't you offer the relevant training to our policemen and women, lawyers and judges, so that they can effectively catch and incarcerate the damn thieves? And while you are both at it, how about educating yourselves about the real reasons our farmers are suffering and why Jamaica is nowhere near achieving food and nutrition security?
- Christopher Serju is a freelance journalist with special emphasis on rural affairs and agriculture.