Farm our way out of poverty
THE EDITOR, Sir:
The Government is doing too little to assist poor communities across Jamaica in rising from their poverty and establishing steady sources of income.
I recently entered some farming communities in St Ann, for example, and most of these farmers of great experience merely manage to cultivate enough for the town markets, much less to produce the sort of yield that would position them to tap into the bigger markets, locally and overseas.
They have the land access. They have the expertise. They have the time. They have the desire. But few have the collateral required by the lending institutions to secure a loan to assist in the purchase of fertiliser and other material needed for a large crop production.
Then again, even if they could source the collateral, they are not able to start the weekly repayments required instantly, because the crops take an average of six to 12 weeks from seedtime to harvest. So no income can be generated before such a time period. And most institutions are unwilling to give the farmers a moratorium.
Furthermore, most of these farmers have been given permission by the Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners in St Ann to utilise farmlands that are not currently being mined. Thus, the farmers are not able to secure loans against the properties. So they cultivate cash crops, which they are successful at, qualitatively, but not quantitatively, to make difference in their livelihood, because of the shortage of resources.
I propose that the Government, through its agricultural agencies, technical and financial, enter into these communities and set up cooperatives in behalf of the communities, provide the resources to them, on a monitored basis, and give them a solid footing to continue on their own.
This model should be piloted in one parish and then spread across the length and breadth of Jamaica, utilising leased lands and the bulk of arable Government lands that lie in bushes, while the country seeks loans for every fiscal need it has, failing to utilise its untapped resources to increase productivity, export and income.
set up processing plants
My vision goes even further. Having established these agricultural cooperatives, the Government should then set up industries/processing plants that require the produce of these farming groups, to make an assortment of gourmet products for the local and international markets. Just imagine the number of jobs that would be created through such a venture and the amount of families that would be benefited.
The farmers in Alexandria, St Ann, and its vicinities stand ready to take on the pilot project. Just make the resources available without the red tape. Jamaica can use the ground to lead it out of debt and to give abbreviations like 'IMF' a new meaning: 'I'm Managing Fine' - keep your money.
JERMAINE F. JOHNSON
Minister of Religion