Group plans to ramp up onion production
The Ministry of Agriculture's push to reduce the county's food-import bill has given birth to the Onion Development Programme (ODP), which is being used as the vehicle to drive the production of onion locally.
The programme was implemented during the 2012/13 crop cycle to increase the supply of local onions in Jamaica. During that time, production was only seven per cent.
"We are working to produce 25 per cent of local consumption by 2017 and up to 40 per cent by the year 2020 in an effort to reduce the importation percentage. Currently, we're at 12.5 per cent in onion production, and we're aiming to move up to 14 per cent this year," said Kirmani Linton, who is a member of the ODP.
He encouraged farmers to get involved in onion production because it is very lucrative, and there is guaranteed return on investments.
The ODP is a three-tier system which includes farmers, the onion technical working groups, and the marketers. The farmers are placed into 'user groups' through the Rural Agricultural Development Authority technical extension officers, who mobilise the groups and assist the farmers to secure funding to begin or expand production.
Linton said the farmers are zoned in groups because it is easier to give assistance to groups instead of individuals.
"In most cases, farmers only have land, so they will be provided with money, seeds and equipment, as well as technical expertise to aid in production. At the end of production, the loan is repaid by supplying the onions to the marketers, who repay the loan and the remaining money paid to the farmers."
For an acre of onion production, the national average yield is approximately 17 tonnes, however, based on statistics, about seven tonnes of onion sold at market value can cover all expenses.
"So we are trying to get the farmers mobilised into user groups and help them to develop a business attitude towards onion production. That way everybody benefits," Linton explained.
The programme has been affected by natural disasters, irrigation, larceny and contract issues - where loans are not being paid back on time - but those issues have been dealt with, and the farmers are being mobilised for the fall crop, which begins in November, because the main focus is to maximise acreage which will ultimately increase the national production.
Linton said they are looking at ensuring the longevity of the programme, which includes putting the farmers in a more resilient position so they will be able to manage even without the ODP.
"It's not that we are importing onions while we are producing. The reality is just that we have not been producing enough to supply local demand, so we have to import, so the purpose of the OPD now is to organise the farmers to produce so we can effectively supply our local needs," Linton told Rural Xpress.