Ministry would welcome Knockalva Agricultural School - Karl Samuda
Minister of Agriculture Karl Samuda says the prospect of the Knockalva Agricultural School being handed over to his ministry would be more than welcome as it could serve as an economic driver by engaging youth and adults in agriculture and agribusiness.
The minister was responding to questions posed by Western Focus about the low enrolment at the 76-year-old institution and an earlier recommendation by Prime Minister Andrew Holness (in March 2015 while he was leader of the Opposition) for it to be, among other things, transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture.
"Nothing has been said to me yet about the matter. If they speak to me about it, I would look at it and certainly receive it ... because I am a firm believer in youth in agriculture. That is one of my great priorities. This would be a great opportunity to promote training of youths in the field of agriculture. I will seek to find out ... . I would receive the gift (Knockalva) with open arms as long as it comes with a little budget," Samuda said.
Last year, Holness had also expressed concern about the focus on agricultural schools at the secondary level, and contended that the institutions had not performed at expected levels. He also suggested that there be a rethinking of the idea of allowing students to specialise in agriculture at such an "early" stage, suggesting it to be a "post-secondary" endeavour. Knockalva was allocated $56.7 million for specialist training in agricultural education last year.
Newly appointed principal of the school, Davia Ramgeet Robinson, had told Western Focus last week that the school, which was built to accommodate 300 boarders, had only 102 students enrolled up to that point.
But one past student of the institution, Livingston Binns, who is now marketing manager at Island Dairies, told Western Focus that what Knockalva needs to do is rebrand and renew itself, better engage its alumni, and reactivate its extra-curricular programmes, and then students will be attracted to the institution.
"Definitely, the school needs rebranding. It has to rebrand. It is forgotten," Binns said. "They have the land space; they have buildings. That is something that could be developed also. You could develop sports. Very little is done in sports at Knockalva. In my time, there used to be a very good cadet corps. We used to compete against Munro, Cornwall, Rusea's - all those traditional schools - in DaCosta Cup football and Headley Cup cricket," he added.
"The traditional schools - the KCs and those schools - they get a lot of support from old students. And those Knockalva old students that you can find now, you could get us together and that group would be a resource bank for the school.
"You have a lot of past students in different locations. So if it means that the school wants to rebrand, then because of our association and where we are employed and the enterprises we own, we can use our companies to sponsor projects and that sort of thing," Binns added.
President of the Hanover Parish Development Committee, Cleveland Wright, says because of its strategic geographical location, Knockalva provides a great opportunity for economic growth. He said the school's scope should be widened and it should be made the nucleus for an agricultural economic zone in that area of western Jamaica.
"Based on the fact that we are striving to feed ourselves, I think Knockalva should be put on a priority listing to attract young people from the four parishes with which it forms a crossroads - Hanover, Westmoreland, St James and St Elizabeth," Wright said. "I don't think people realise it is there, because it is not being felt now, but Knockalva has a rich history of being one of the top agricultural schools for many years.
"It is a 20-minute drive from the airport. St Elizabeth is just a few minutes away. The minister should look into these possibilities and use Knockalva to give us an economic part to play on the prosperity train as a region. Upgrade it to a polytechnic institution, which will provide the necessaries to improve agriculture," he added.