Brian Lower, Contributor
Brian Lower (centre) with farmers in Christiana, Manchester.
ABOUT SIX months ago, I began my two-year Peace Corps service with a farmer's co-operative in the town of Christiana in Manchester.
With a background in insurance and also with experience teaching at a primary school in Belize, working in agriculture seemed an odd assignment. "What in the world could I bring to the farmers of central Jamaica?" I asked at the time.
Two of the most striking things you learn about the people of this country are firstly the willingness to work long, hard hours and secondly that there is no lack of brain power. Consequently, I have spent most of my energy here helping give voice to Jamaican solutions to address Jamaican issues, rather than bringing outside solutions in. It is mostly a case of helping bridge the gap between the individual and the information they need.
An example of this has been the introduction of greenhouse production to rural farmers in Christiana. Through a post-hurricane recovery project Jamaica Business Recovery Programme (JBRP), several large greenhouses had been built to introduce modern farming practices in the area, but all too often technical advancements in agriculture rarely reached the small local rural farmer.
This seemed to be the case again, however the Christiana Potato Growers Co-op Association (www.cpgca.150m.com), is working to help the small farmers incorporate this technology on their farms.
To this end, I helped produce a study to turn the aid-funded model into a self-sustaining business model to attract lending institutions. We are also working on an easier to construct, smaller version of the greenhouse which should prove to be affordable for farmers.
I have also started an outreach programme conducting instructional tours of our demonstration farm to high school students. We are trying to reach out to the youth so when they think of agriculture, they think in terms of modern farming methods, rather than the traditional small rural farmer toiling endlessly in the sun all day.
In addition to these activities, I have helped the co-operative develop sound business practices to ensure its survival and commitment to the local farmer.
But all that is only one side of the coin.
In the short time I have been here I have learned much more than I have shared. From knowing almost nothing about farming, I am now a source of advice to the local farming community on the subject of greenhouse production of tomato and sweet pepper. My knowledge of the people and communities in this part of the country seems to be growing by leaps and bounds as each week goes by.
Though Jamaica usually brings to mind thoughts of sunshine and sandy beaches, central Jamaica is quite different with its mountains and farms, but just as beautiful and enjoyable in its own way.