Sat | Nov 28, 2020

Growth & Jobs | Remain viable - JN Small Business Loans manager urges farmers to diversify crops

Published:Tuesday | July 30, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Gillian Hyde, general manager, JN Small Business Loans (JNSBL), has urged local farmers to consider crop diversification to remain viable and to adopt new farming techniques that would benefit the sector positively during challenging times.

“Some farmers have more than one source of income, mainly through crop diversification, and this has been useful in managing credit,” she said. “We encourage this farming practice as it helps farmers to manage their cash flows better while they wait on longer-term crop production, which provides opportunities for them to increase their income.”

Crop diversification provides a wider choice from which to expand the production of agricultural produce while reducing risks for farmers. It provides farmers with the opportunity to plant crops with varying production cycles and, therefore, they benefit from more frequent harvesting and income periods. Crop diversification, therefore, provides sustained income, reduces total crop failure, provides sustained supply to markets, and increases farmers’ income to meet other needs related to the household, savings, and their well-being. It is also part of a new thrust from the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries to encourage farmers to produce a wider range of crops to supply targeted local markets.

For example, during a forum at the Coffee Festival earlier this year, farmers were taught how they could diversify their production and explore new avenues to finance their ventures.

Carolyn McDonald-Riley, director, Tourism Linkages Network, told coffee farmers that they could benefit from crop diversification through the ministry’s six-month-old Agri-linkages Exchange (ALEX) platform, which was gaining traction among farmers seeking new markets.

DIFFICULT

Hyde also revealed that JNSBL trained its credit relations officers in climate-smart agriculture best practices to assist the more than 1,500 farmers in its loan portfolio about six years ago after it was noted that many farmers found it difficult to honour their loan commitments due to extreme climate conditions such as drought and flooding.

“That issue indicated that our farmers needed support to make their businesses climate resilient and adaptable to inevitable changes. We decided to assist them in whatever way possible and pursued relevant training and funding sources to provide sustainable responses to this challenge,” Hyde related.

She explained that farmers had experienced the negative effects of extreme climate conditions and, therefore, many welcomed the opportunity to learn new techniques such as water and moisture management and to acquire systems such as drip irrigation.

“They also sought guidance in respect of proper soil-management techniques to reduce the effects of flooding, and we have forged partnerships with relevant organisations to assist where it is requested,” the JNSBL general manager stated.

It was further noted that farmers who had multiple streams of income using crop diversification responded better to the negative impact of climatic variations, and in some instances, were more likely to carry on business and continue earning. Farmers who employed climate-smart systems also reduced impact.

Hyde noted that to encourage farmers to adopt new techniques, the JNSBL offers a Climate Smart Loan facility, financed by the Inter-American Development Bank, through the Pilot Project for Climate Resilience, facilitated by the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation and the Development Bank of Jamaica.

“The project seeks to provide greater accessibility to climate-smart systems and encourages the implementation of climate-smart farming techniques in a low-cost and flexible structure, taking advantage of flexible loan terms and grace periods,” she explained.

Last year, the JNSBL also signed a memorandum of understanding with brewing company Red Stripe to assist cassava farmers who were part of Project Grow, an initiative that replaces imported high-maltose corn syrup with cassava starch in its brewing process.

JNSBL also has flexible collateral requirements for farmers, and farm equipment as well as household appliances and other non-traditional items can be used as collateral.

“We have also rolled out other loan products, which offer the Development Bank of Jamaica Credit Enhancement Facility, giving farmers a partial guarantee of up to 80 per cent,” Hyde explained.

Hyde said that the JNSBL remains committed to the sector, which has been targeted as an area that can assist Jamaica to achieve sustainable economic growth.

“JNSBL has always supported the agricultural sector,” the general manager said. “Our agriculture portfolio has assisted persons from different areas of the sector, such as livestock, poultry, fishery, and crop production – representing a mixture of micro and small farmers across our country.”