THE MINISTRY of Agriculture and Fisheries will be moving to aggressively market its tractor-rental service following Wednesday's presentation of certificates of competence to 26 operators, who completed a two-day 16-hour training programme in the use of hand-held tractors.
"Already, we have a backlog of some 141 farmers and stakeholders who are awaiting the tractor services that you will deliver," Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke told them on Wednesday. "This demand is expected to be increased in short order through advertisements placed in print media, cable stations and on community noticeboards, as well as RADA's (Rural Agricultural Development Authority) text messaging service," the minister disclosed.
He was delivering the main address at the graduation of the operators drawn from across the island and who were trained under the RADA's Employment Creation Programme. Valued at a total of $13 million, the tractors were acquired last year but could not be utilised because no one was trained to operate them. The training programme was conducted by Kingston Industrial Agency which will provide instructions through refresher courses as the need arises. Procured through the assistance of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, and Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas project, they will complement the 15 rubber wheel tractors that already form part of the RADA fleet.
Meanwhile, CEO of RADA, Al Powell, told The Gleaner that the use of the hand-held tractor would prove more practical for the hilly terrain which characterises much of the land available, especially to small farmers.
"The large 100-horsepower tractors can't plow on the slopes without having a challenge. A lot of the drivers feel like as if they are going to turn over but the hand-held tractors can go into the little one-tenth of a square, they can go on the hillside and they can go anywhere," said Powell.
Oversight responsibility will rest with the RADA parish management and the fee will be split at an agreed rate between the operator and RADA with a portion going to the parish office and another portion going to a maintenance fund for the equipment. While the service will be available to the public upon request subject to availability, preference will be given to registered farmers.
Farmers accessing the tractor service will also have the incentive of free access to a mechanical planter. These planters, according to Powell, are now being dispatched across the islands and he is optimistic that both services will be widely used as they go hand in hand.