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Trelawny farmers taking up leases for old cane lands

Published:Tuesday | July 14, 2020 | 12:29 AMLeon Jackson/Gleaner Writer

Western Bureau:

Small farmers in Trelawny are now taking charge of the lands that were formerly a part of the Long Pond sugar belt through a deal between SCJ Holdings Limited and the All-Island Cane Farmers’ Association (AICFA), which were tasked to manage the leasing process.

In the initial stages, Organic Growth Holdings Limited (OGHL) leased 635 acres, which they are using to grow medicinal hemp to produce CBD oil for export purposes. That project is off the ground and running and other components have been added.

“Apart from the production of CBD Oil, we will also be planting cash crops and rearing goats on the lands under our control,” said Michael Yeckes, a director of OGHL. “Our long-term plans are to grow and diversify as we move along. Planting cash crops and the rearing of animals is a part of the equation.”

When OGHL broke ground for the medicinal hemp side of the project, Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw said 2,000 acres of the land in the general area would be put aside for the production of bamboo plants.

3,000 acres

As it relates to the 3,000 acres of land now being distributed to small farmers, Nigel Myrie, secretary manager of AICFA, which is managing the process, said it was designed to give them a stake in what is unfolding in the area.

“We are at Phase 1, which is leasing acreages of different sizes to small farmers,” said Myrie.

“Each farmer who qualifies will pay $5,000 per acre. To qualify, a farmer has to satisfy us that they can afford to develop the land and plant any variety of cash crops,” explained Myrie, who is also chairman of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).

He is encouraging farmers to register with RADA to benefit from their support services.

Pauline Robinson of Clark’s Town in the parish, who has leased 20 acres of land, is looking forward to establishing herself as a farmer and is currently seeking to secure loans at a reasonable rate to get off on the right footing.

“We are in the process of discussing with Community & Workers of Jamaica Co-operative Credit Union to see how financing can be accessed at a much cheaper rate than the regular banks,” said Robinson. “I have so far planted a variety of crops on five acres. On my farm, there are string beans, sweet pepper, onions, and tomato, along with other crops such as sweet potatoes.”

Trelawny was the hub of sugar production from the mid 18th century, when the parish had more sugar factories than any other parish in the island. At the end of 2016, the last two factories – Long Pond and Hampden, which collectively had some 30,000 acres of land – ceased production, opening the door to what is now taking place.