Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
SPANISH TOWN, St Catherine
A WIND of change is sweeping through the inner-city community of Tawes Meadows, Spanish Town, sparking a socio-economic transformation that has residents excited and optimistic about their future.
"Oh, this piece of paper! It has boosted my self-esteem and others', I would say, a thousandfold because of the opportunity it creates for us. Now we can feel confident enough that we are farmers and will be accepted, and will be recognised. So it is more than just a piece of paper to us. Trust me, this is our future," Merrick McNaughton shared with The Gleaner on Wednesday.
Voted most outstanding participant and highest achiever, the 25-year-old was one of 29 members of the St Catherine community who graduated after completing a four week-course in cash crop production and animal husbandry. The course covered the areas of production, egg/layer production, poultry production, cash crops, pig rearing and goat rearing and the residents where divided into six clusters under these headings.
McNaughton, who leads the bee/honey production group, is also head of the recently formed Tawes Meadows Farmers Group and also president of the latest addition to the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) association of branch societies. He is very excited about the prospects for the new graduates who were provided with start-up kits - tools, equipment and livestock, under the multi-agency project spearheaded by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF).
In addition to providing training free of cost as well as 350 chickens, two goats, two pigs, the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) contributed agricultural tools and supplies valued at $160,000. Food For The Poor Jamaica donated $450,000 worth of tools and seeds to the programme; 51 persons started the course with 29 passing their final examinations.
According to JSIF Managing Director Scarlette Gillings, the other 22 participants will continue to receive training in these subject areas under the second phase of the agricultural/environmental sub-component of the original Mediation & Conflict Resolution Package three programme, funded by the World Bank and implemented by JSIF.
She told the graduation ceremony at the Caymanas Golf and Country Club, St Catherine, that the choice of agricultural training was a strategic decision, given that food security is now a priority item for most countries.
It is building on the success of the umbrella $7 million programme under which JSIF spent some $2.5 million to implement a clean up and beautification project in the community. This was followed by Level the Vibes, a sports-based initiative which brought together youngsters from different parts of the community, helping them to develop coping skills to recognise, cope with and rise above the challenges of crime, violence and other social challenges.
The programme, which started in January, is scheduled to close at the end of January 2013. But with four acres of land made available for agricultural product, it is designed to be self-sustainable. It will directly impact some 30 families in the communities of Tawes Meadows and Ellerslie Pen whose contribution by way of sweat equity was valued at $60,000. In addition to becoming members of the JAS, all the graduates have been registered with RADA.
Situated northeast of the Old Harbour roundabout on the Mandela Highway and west of the old Spanish Town Cemetery, life for residents of Tawes Meadows has been characterised by high unemployment and low income, prompting the JSIF, in keeping with its mandate, to respond to the need to invest in the development of human capacity there through skills training and the development of micro enterprises.
For Selena Ledgister Kellier, manager of the agriculture and fisheries department at Food For The Poor, the project effectively demonstrates the positives that can be achieved through partnership. She issued this charge at the graduation: "Given the resources and support, our people can rise above their challenges and make a significant difference. I challenge our participants and all Jamaicans to get on and stay on the path of increasing productivity and remaining internationally competitive by maximising the opportunities that are available to you."