Sat | Apr 4, 2020

Farmers ramp up production amid COVID-19

Published:Wednesday | March 25, 2020 | 12:11 AM

AS THE global economy teeters on the edge of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Jamaican farmers are ramping up production to maintain the local food supply chain.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness on March 16 announced a ban on social gatherings in excess of 20 persons. However, he defined supermarkets and markets as “being treated as essential” in light of the need to provide a steady stream of local foods to offset reduced imports.

The 20-person limit will fall to 10, effective today, March 25.

Two farming groups in St Ann and Portland have been investing in infrastructure and training to safeguard agricultural supply, with support from the private sector, as a crucial part of their ability to serve Jamaica.

INCREASED DEMAND

The New Era Farmers Benevolent Society of Beecher Town, St Ann, has been provided with irrigation equipment and farming tools to ramp up production and increase productivity to meet the anticipated increase in demand for produce.

“Before we began procurement, production was below 50 per cent and farmers were unable to store water for the irrigation of their crops. Farmers resorted to using five-gallon water bottles to assist with watering the crops,” said Simone Cuthbert, president of New Era.

“The group used their grant funding to purchase 19 water tanks which serve a shared plot, which is subdivided between members of the group. So we’re in the process of improving production, and [we] have other equipment on the way. Production is expected to go up by 70 per cent.”

Meanwhile, with adherence to strict environmental practices, as well as good agricultural practices, being key to sustainable farming, the United Farmers Benevolent Society in Portland has constructed several garbage enclosures to facilitate the sorting of food waste for use in a trash-to-compost project. The compost made is sold to farmers in the group at a reduced rate for use as fertiliser.

The group has embarked on sensitisation sessions for residents to raise public awareness and get greater community buy-in.

Both farming groups received funding from the Digicel Foundation as part of its 15th anniversary grant campaign, titled ‘15 Strong’.

The foundation has supported rural farmers in their bid to expand production – a timely undertaking as COVID-19 threatens the way of life for many Jamaicans. In addition to funding for their infrastructural undertakings, the groups received entrepreneurship training from The University of the West Indies, Mona, Centre for Entrepreneurship, Thinking and Practice.