'RADA's role misunderstood' ... CEO responds to farmers' failing grade
Severe financial constraints make it impractical for the 98 extension officers employed by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) to effectively service the 178,837 registered farmers in its databank, on an individual basis, regularly.
For this reason, Peter Thompson, acting chief executive officer of RADA, told The Gleaner that Monday's front page story, 'F for RADA ' Clarendon, St Catherine farmers give agriculture authority failing grade, was unfair and not truly representative of the agency's ongoing contribution to agriculture and rural development.
With more than 200,000 farmers across the island benefiting from the expertise of extension officers, the small number of farmers who outlined their woes in the article could not accurately reflect the views of the national farming community, Thompson said.
The farmers had complained that RADA was more of deterrent than facilitator for their agricultural ventures ? some complaining about the lack of inputs.
Thompson pointed out that there was clearly a misunderstanding on the part of the farmers quoted in the article about the role of RADA.
"Extension officers do not give seeds and fertilisers to farmers. That is not our mandate,? he declared
"RADA is mandated to enhance the development of farming through an effective, efficient and sustainable extension service. Essentially, the organisation provides technical advice to farmers of any size through training solutions such as farmer field schools, on-farm demonstrations, workshops and field days islandwide to stimulate increased productivity," the acting CEO explained.
On the occasions when RADA helps in the distribution of input material to farmers, this is done through the implementation of specified rural development projects executed in collaboration with other agencies and organisations. This is not a core function of the agency.
In addition, RADA's extension officers also engage in farm visits to monitor the use of pesticides, and encourage safety standards and interventions to allow farmers to observe and engage in best practices.
Thompson said that while the agency provides market linkages by connecting buyers with farmers, and vice versa, extension officers do not get involved in the marketing negotiations
"Under the marketing and production unit of the organisation, we, however, give market intelligence, that is, information on post harvesting and handling, and facilitate linkages between farmers and potential and existing markets," said Thompson.
This is done by working with the farmers in groups, rather than on an individual basis, except in cases where a farmer's operation might put others at risk " by way of potential disease outbreak, which would require urgent attention.