Government to reclaim farm lands
The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries yesterday served notice that it is serious about reclaiming and retaining large tracts of arable Crown lands which it intends to put back into agricultural production.
The portfolio minister, Derrick Kellier, declared that he was prepared to fight the wholesale transfer of fertile farmland for housing and other infrastructural development.
"Let me sound a warning: It is not going to be an easy ride to get this minister to yield good agricultural land to housing," Kellier said while making his contribution to the 2015-2016 Sectoral Debate.
Emphasising the need for a comprehensive land utilisation policy to preserve agricultural production, Kellier told Parliament that it was cause for concern that of the estimated 1.1 million hectares of land in Jamaica, only 271,600 hectares, or a mere 25 per cent, was classified as arable.
"It is bad enough that we have not managed our soil in a manner to preserve its fertility, and we are correcting this through our National Soil Health Programme, but we are losing good agricultural lands at an alarming rate to other economic activity such as housing," the agriculture minister lamented. "Not to mention Mr Speaker, the challenge of managing lands, given the reality of climate change."
Declaring that he did not have portfolio responsibility for the Land Development and Utilisation Act, Kellier appealed to his colleague ministers to join him in invoking the provisions of that particular piece of legislation to get fertile, idle agricultural land into production. This, he explained, was consistent with plans to reclaim and develop some 8,093 hectares (20,000 acres) of government land into agro parks.
already in motion
Earlier in the day, permanent secretary in the agriculture ministry, Donovan Stanberry, in an address to a two-day regional workshop on 'Coconut Industry Development for the Caribbean', made it clear that the process to accomplish this had already started in eastern Jamaica.
"We are in the process now, as we speak, of sequestering at least 5,000 acres of land in the parish of St Mary; lands which 30 years ago the government then under Mr [Michael] Manley acquired and were destined for Pioneer Farms and all that kind of thing, lands which are still there lying idle," he told workshop participants at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, New Kingston.
"We are now putting in the requisite infrastructure on those added lands to enable large-scale production," said Stanberry.
Some 1,500 acres of land at the Unity/Nonsuch property is targeted for the cultivation of coconut, cocoa and banana by year end, under the agro park concept, as part of the long-term plan to revive St Mary's ailing economy, according to Stanberry.
"There is a reason why the parish of St Mary has consistently ranked among the poorer parishes in Jamaica. Because we have abandoned, for some reason, cocoa, which was a growing industry there, coconut, and so on, but we are getting back there," the permanent secretary explained.
The Pioneer Farms/Land Lease schemes were major pillars of Manley's socio-economic reform programme under which young people would be settled on idle lands to cultivate a range of crops.