Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Time to rethink Jamaica’s agriculture model

Published:Saturday | March 26, 2016 | 3:00 AM
A coffee farmer looks at some of the seedlings distributed in the Mavis Bank area of St Andrew as part of efforts to more than double the production of coffee beans in the community.

CHADWICK ANDERSON (PhD)

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking to an entrepreneur who was doing some gardening work at my home. He struck a note when he said that his brother in Miami would rent a tractor for US$60 and prepare the land and profitably plant callaloo and other crops.

In disbelief, I conducted a web search, and while I didn't find the $60 rental fee, I did make two interesting observations when I searched for 'farm equipment rental rates'. The search results included a number of university websites and also gave the cost per acre for machine-based agricultural services.

Further research into why universities are the source of the information points to the role they play in the success model of agriculture in both USA and Canada. This model, if further assessed globally, is shown to be the most successful approach to growing and serving the agriculture sector.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (http://nifa.usda.gov/extension), the extension partnership model "brings vital, practical information to agricultural producers, small-business owners, consumers, families, and young people".

The importance of this model goes back to the 1800s, although formalised in 1914 by the Smith-Lever Act. The success of the model is testament to its continued survival (although not without challenges). In modern-day farming, according to the USDA, extension partnerships help to:

1. Translate science for practical application.

2. Identify emerging research questions, find answers and encourage application of science and technology to improve agricultural, economic, and social conditions.

3. Prepare people to break the cycle of poverty, encourage healthful lifestyles, and prepare youth for responsible adulthood.

4. Provide rapid response regarding disasters and emergencies.

5. Connect people to information and assistance available online through eXtension.org.

In Jamaica's model, a large number of farmers remain at the 'macka end of the stick' although billions of dollars is spent from the Government of Jamaica Budget, plus millions of US and European Union donor dollars on the agriculture sector, including in the agro-parks. If we wish to prepare people to break the cycle of poverty, better stated as 'creating prosperity', we need to look at the how.

 

ESTABLISH UNIVERSITY PARTNERSHIPS

The integrated networks within and among the large science and research-based universities, The University of the West Indies at Mona, Northern Caribbean University, and the University of Technology, Jamaica can be leveraged by creating agricultural partnerships and redeploying the existing resources, including budgets and grants.

Our universities, through our researchers and students, can bring significant innovations to the agriculture sector. You name the challenge, we have a discipline that can solve it. In the current agricultural model, engaging some of our universities would rightly be through contracts for services or spot requests for which we may be able to jump immediately at the request.

In the context of an extension partnership, we will organise our activities to deliver on the outcomes of these partnerships. Beyond access to our expertise, there is also structuring of agricultural research as projects within the wide network of students projects and graduate work programmes.

There is also the establishment of interdisciplinary teams with onsite and field activities. There will finally be the integration of data-collection systems that can manage big data and create scenarios to enable more effective decision making by technocrats and politicians.

I am, therefore, encouraging a new thought process. There is now the deepening of the linkages between agriculture and commerce though the merging of the ministries. The process cannot stop there. Significant gains will only be realised through agriculture modernisation.

Modernising agriculture will require a new agricultural model, and I have been to enough meetings to know that our universities stand ready to partner with the Government to create a profitable industry.