Gleaner Online
Updated Every Weekday at Noon - Jamaica Time Nov 19, 1998

Yam - major economic activity in South Trelawny

Karen Jones, Staff Reporter

A hillside yam farm in south Trelawny.

Western Bureau - The socio-economic activities of Albert Town is a reflection of what happens in the surrounding communities comprising South Trelawny. The major economic activity is yam production.

There are no factories and no large scale entrepreneurial operation to provide ample employment particularly for school-leavers from the high school (Albert Town Comprehensive) and eight feeder schools.

According to Mr. Hugh Dixon, chairman of the South Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA), yam production accounts for 80 per cent of all economic activity in South Trelawny, while the parish accounts for 58 - 60 per cent of total yam production islandwide.

In recent times, the market for yams has increased because its overseas demand, previously consumed among ethnic Caribbean groups, has extended to other national groups, Mr. Dixon added. He said yam production has increased from just over 150,000 metric tons to over 200,000 metric tons over the ten-year period between 1986 and 1996.

Jamaica produces two varieties of yellow yam: the Black Wiss and Round Leaf. Both varieties are popular in the international marketplace. "We have the dominant position in North America at the moment," Mr. Dixon said. However, Brazil, Costa Rica and West Africa are increasing their stake in the marketplace.

While Jamaica takes an average five days to export yams to its major overseas market, which guarantees its quality, the price is not attractive. This is partly as a result of the number of middle entities that the produce passes through after it leaves the farmer in South Trelawny.

Mr. Dixon said that a case of Jamaican yams in North America is sold for US$54 in comparison to the US$27 per case offered by the competitors. "Soon what will start happening is that distributors are going to opt for the other varieties," the STEA chairman said.

However, if Jamaica is to remain competitive on the international market, its future will depend on the farmers' ability to improve the cost of production as well as to overhaul the "archaic technology" that goes into yam production.

Mr. Dixon warned that the time is nigh to start examining alternative methods of yam production in order that the crop remain secure and not follow the "devastating route" that has plagued local banana production.

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