St Mary 4H Clubs look to engage more youngsters in farming
PORT MARIA, St Mary:
IN AN attempt to develop a robust group of modern farmers who can help sustain the country's delicate economy, 4H Clubs Jamaica has been mobilising and training young people in the business of agriculture for more than seven decades.
4H celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2015 and although much has changed since the time of its inception, according to parish development officer for St Mary, Elvis Williams, the organisation remains as relevant today as ever.
He told Rural Xpress: "4H is very relevant because we are coming out of a plantation system, which affects how people view agriculture, so we still have problems in terms of the stigmas attached to farming.
"When you talk to youngsters who don't know anything about agriculture or 4H, most still look at farming as a little man with dirty clothes going into the bush, but things have changed.
"Some of the biggest industries in Jamaica and other parts of the world come out of farming, which is the foundation all societies are developed upon because everybody has to eat, regardless of their job or profession."
Williams, 36, added: "Outside of going into the field and producing, areas such as agro-processing are becoming more popular and we are playing our part in trying to expose youngsters to the different avenues they can get involved in.
"If you don't want to go into the field, you can take produce from farmers and get them prepared, packaged and shipped off to the retailers; or you could be a soil scientist who tests that the soil is correct for the particular crop a farmer wants to produce.
"There are a number of areas youngsters can involve themselves in that don't involve going into the field and getting dirty."
Williams is a former 4H member who studied at Elim Agricultural School and the College of Agriculture, Science and Education before taking up a post in 2011 with the organisation that first inspired his passion for agricultural development.
He explained: "I started out as a clubite in primary school and, based on the training and exposure I received, am now able to give back to youngsters and help mould them the right way."
In 2014, a member of Williams' group was awarded a four-year scholarship to study at EARTH University in Costa Rica and 4H's governing body, the National Leaders Association, ranked the St Mary centre as fourth-best and one of the most improved parishes in the country.
This year, Williams hopes to increase membership in the parish by 40 per cent to 7,000 and launch an innovative project that will engage and educate more young people about the benefits of farming.
He said: "St Mary is blessed with lots of fruit trees and, every year, we see many fruits being wasted because people don't have the capacity to preserve them for an extended period. We are looking at getting a processing plant or incubator to utilise those crops that would otherwise be wasted.
"Something like that would enable us to take in our youngsters and train them on how to utilise the equipment effectively to preserve the crops and fruits we have across the parish.
"It will also be an income-generating opportunity and an avenue to provide skills, knowledge and employment for some of the youngsters leaving the school system, and overall help improve the aesthetics of the parish."