Barrington Flemming, Gleaner Writer
Agriculture ministry to cut the importation of the product by 15 per cent.
AGRICULTURE MINISTER Roger Clarke has said his ministry is now working feverishly to put at least 1,000 acres of land at Amity Hall, in St Catherine into rice production by the end of this month.
The project, which is expected to cost in excess of $100 million, is being funded by the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) and implemented by the Agricultural Investment Corporation, a subsidiary of the agriculture ministry.
Clarke told The Gleaner that the multimillion dollar investment is expected to cut the country's importation of rice by 15 per cent.
"Jamaica spends roughly US$70 million annually to import approximately 100,000 tonnes of finished rice for local consumption and if we are able to yield at least five thousand pounds of rice per acre, we should be able to slash our imports by a 15 per cent margin," Clarke said.
He said 20 farmers would be included in the project with funding to be disbursed through the People's Cooperative Bank.
"It is going through the PC banks; the little hitch is for the 20 farmers to be involved in the project to formalise their arrangements with the PC Bank. However, work is going very well on that so we should be well on our way soon," Clarke said.
The minister explained that his ministry had planned to start the project in September, but it had hit a snag.
"We were hoping to have started during the month of September, but it has not happened because of all these bureaucratic arrangements with the PC banks and the DBJ," stated Clarke. "So we are really trying to see how to get off the ground as quickly as possible."
The agriculture minister said within four months, they should be harvesting rice, adding that the project will offer a few positive spin-offs.
"The Jamaica Flour Mills has indicated that they will do all the milling of the rice for us. The spin-off from that is that when you process the rice, you get the bran and the bran can help in animal feed production," noted Clarke. "It would be beneficial if we were able to do that, as it would help to cut our feed importation bill."
The minister said sections of Clarendon, St Elizabeth and Westmoreland are also being targeted for rice production next year.
Prior to the latest rice project, former Agriculture Minister Christopher Tufton initiated a project, through the Ministry of Agriculture and Jamaica Broilers, which saw J$5 million being invested in the cultivation of 25 acres of rice.