Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Hutchinson announces changes to distribution of farming inputs

Published:Tuesday | April 5, 2016 | 4:00 AMClaudia Gardner
Agriculture Minister J.C. Hutchinson (left) and Montego Bay Mayor Councillor Glendon Harris in a casual discussion at the RADA boothe at the Montpelier Agricultural Show on Easter Monday.

Farmers in western Jamaica have said they are in full support of the decision by the Ministry of Agriculture to put an end to the long-standing practice of having members of parliament decide which farmer should get assistance from Government.

While speaking at the Montpelier Agricultural Show in St James on Easter Monday, J.C. Hutchinson, the minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Industry, Investment, Agriculture and Fisheries, announced an end to the era in which members of parliament (MP) would decide which farmers they want to obtain agricultural assistance from the agriculture ministry.

"We intend to make sure that all the inputs that come through RADA (Rural Agricultural Development Authority) - that is fertiliser, seeds, spray - will go directly to the farmer and not to we, the MPs," said Hutchinson.

"Wat you see happening when the goods come to we, the MPs, we give it to our favourite people; and many of them are not farmers, but when they get it they turn around and sell it. We goin cut dat out!"

Turning his attention to southern St James's MP, former Agriculture minister, Derrick Kellier, who was seated on the platform, he said, "We sorry, nuttn else coming through yuh, and neither through mi. We going to empower the farmers so they will be able to determine what they want and how they going to deliver it."

Hutchinson's declaration was being applauded by Donald Campbell, president of the Riverside Farmers Group in Hanover. Campbell noted that he was always wary of the involvement of politicians in the delivery of services to farmers.

FRAUDULENT  DISTRIBUTION

"I support it 100 per cent because the political influence always takes over in the distribution of benefits. So that if you don't support a particular party that is in charge at the constituency level, then, as a farmer, you don't get any benefits," said Campbell.

"For example, the fertiliser that comes to RADA, there is a list that comes with it via the MP. You go to the MPs' office and you beg fertiliser for whosoever wants, and you go to the office at RADA and only the persons whose names are on that list can get fertiliser."

"You have a body set up, and that body is RADA. RADA knows all the groups of farmers, so it should be channelled through RADA, but it should not be on the advice of the member of parliament or any councillor," added Campbell.

While he was opposition spokesman on agriculture last July, Hutchinson stated that MPs were guilty of fraudulently distributing agricultural inputs to their henchmen, instead of genuine farmers. At the time, he called on Kellier to "cut out sending things through MPs to distribute to farmers", as these were being delivered to their "political lackeys".

At the time, Hutchinson had also noted that needy small farmers were not getting the opportunity to buy back the inputs originally intended for their benefit, as although the scammers (political henchmen) sell them lower than the market rates, the prices were still far higher than the small farmers were able to afford.

Ray Kerr, vice-president of the Clifton/Mt Peace Farmers Group, supported Hutchinson's stance. He also wants to see the provision of coordinators to get all the farmers groups "up and running" again. According to him, the new policy will allow farmers to chart their own destiny.

"I agree with it, in part," said Kerr. "But the farmers need to have their structures, their JAS groups and their farmers organisations, in place. The farmers in their localities know who are real farmers. The RADA officers know the real farmers, but some of them not venturing in any deep bush again, dem nah get no travelling (allowance) again."

Kerr is recommending that specialised officers from the Ministry of Agriculture be assigned to deal with training, agribusiness and record-keeping, as well as international agencies, National Irrigation Commission, other related agencies, and donor agencies, to work with the farmers.

claudia.gardner@gleanerjm.com