Juliet Holness offers AgriHope
More than 230 small farmers in East Rural St Andrew are to receive government assistance to cultivate crops such as celery, purple cabbage, snow peas, broccoli, scallion, and Irish potato under a J$6 million project dubbed AgriHope.
"We are about ensuring that we increase the income of the farmers through improving and increasing agricultural production. Special emphasis is being placed on the production of high-value crops," Member of Parliament (MP) Juliet Holness said during the official launch of the project yesterday at the Hope Road location of the St Andrew parish office of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority.
"Those are the crops with high demand. East Rural St Andrew is one of the places that has the climatic conditions to be able to allow us to produce certain crops that don't necessarily do well elsewhere. And those are money crops - high in value, high in demand - and many of them don't cost that much to produce."
The MP said the decision to focus on these niche market crops was taken after consultation with stakeholders in the tourism sector.
"I spent some time talking to some of our hoteliers just to ensure that those were also items that they needed and those were items that we, having produced in East Rural, will have a guaranteed market for," Holness said.
With a guaranteed market for the crops even before they are planted, the first-time parliamentarian is banking on the success of the project to provide a well-needed increase in income generation for the mainly small farmers.
They are expected to deliver an increase of some 79,600 kilogrammes of product, and, even though she did not offer a timeline for them to get up to speed, Holness made it clear that great things were expected of the participants in the project, which is her brainchild.
"We expect that having invested a mere $5.9 million, our yield, based on the current prices, should be somewhere in the region of $13.46 million," she told the farmers.
This is despite the fact that they face some critical constraints, which are not likely to be addressed in the short term.
"We lack infrastructure. We lack appropriate technology. We have high costs of inputs, and absolutely poor-quality roads in terms of our road network. We have a very high post-harvest loss as well, and many persons lack the necessary financing," Holness admitted.
However, instead of being deterred by these obstacles, the MP said she was motivated by them.
She explained: "As MP, these are the areas that I focused on in looking at what we would do with agriculture. My constituents are into subsistence farming, (so) the determination was to use these acreages to grow high-value crops. Using small greenhouses, you would be able to produce and earn and take care of your family from that."