Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
Two and half months after the agriculture minister announced a special six per cent interest loan scheme for onion and potato farmers, the project is yet to get off the ground and the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) has admitted it is yet to work out details of the loan arrangement.
"The DBJ is unable to give you any information on the captioned matter as the terms of the facility are being finalised. As soon as they are completed we'll be in a better position to give you the details you have requested.
"Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience these delays have caused," Claudette White, manager, communication and marketing at the DBJ, responded by email last Friday to a Gleaner request for an update on the project.
Delivering the keynote address at the annual Denbigh Agricultural Show on Saturday, July 30, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Robert Montague announced plans to finance development of the two crops, from a special pool of funds, to be lent to farmers at a revolutionary rate of six per cent.
"Let us plant Irish potatoes and onions to save our country some $3 billion in imports. Let us produce onions and potatoes to employ our people," Montague charged.
"Not only are we reducing the interest rates, but we will be putting in place the necessary infrastructure to facilitate production."
Nothing has changed
However, with the traditional planting season set to start the first week in November, Alvin Murray, manager of the Christiana Potato Growers Co-operative, is contending that nothing has changed for its members.
Orders for the importation of seed potato would have to get underway by mid-October in order to meet his deadline.
"Nothing has happened as yet on the ground and to the best of my knowledge the PC (Peoples Co-operative) banks have not bought into the programme," Murray told The Gleaner.
"I sent farmers from Christiana to go up there (Christiana PC Bank). One was seeking a loan to plant six acres of potato at the six per cent rate announced by the minister. They tell him they don't know anything about that and are going at their usual nine per cent rate," Murray disclosed.
One of the officers, he said, declared that the bank is still owed millions from an earlier loan scheme for potato farmers, which was initiated by former Agriculture Minister Dr Christopher Tufton.
According to one farmer, it appears that the PC banks are not interested in the current project because they are still waiting to recoup the money disbursed for the previous loan scheme.
Meanwhile, the DBJ seems to be dragging its feet on the matter.
When The Gleaner called the bank requesting details of the collateral requirements and other such information which would be of interest to farmers, managing director of the DBJ, Milverton Reynolds, twice defaulted on his promise to provide information.
"Sorry for the delay in responding, but I was off on leave and only just came back. But, more importantly, we have been working with the ministry to finalise the details and this will be completed shortly. Can you give us until next week for us to respond to you? Would appreciate it," Reynolds responded by e-mail on Wednesday, August 31.
No more information
Last Friday's response from White was all of three weeks later, with no more information on the scheme than when Montague made the grand announcement at the end of July.
At Denbigh, Montague had noted in respect of a number of agricultural projects that the interests rates faced by farmers were unsustainable.
He said: "As a result, I have met with the Development Bank of Jamaica and the Agricultural Credit Board and I have instructed them to review their rates and an announcement will be made within 30 days."
But so far, nothing has happened and the farmers are losing hope. "I don't think we were targeted to benefit. They say that, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty nothing has happened," Murray opined.