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St Ann small farmers want stake in agro parks

Published:Thursday | February 7, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Hugh Johnson, president of the St Ann Association of Branch Societies.

Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer

SMALL FARMERS in St Ann are urging the Government to make special provisions in order to enable them to contribute to the development of the much touted agro parks.

Hugh Johnson, president of the St Ann Association of Branch Societies and chairman of the South West St Ann Farmers Association, has taken issue with the approach being presented by the administration.

"My issue is that bauxite is on its way out and the Government is pushing agro parks for farmers, but the small farmers that we represent are not in the position to partner with the government," Johnson told The Gleaner after earlier presenting his case at a public forum in St Ann.

"So what I'm asking the government is to say, how they are going to partner with us so that we can move the small farmers from their level to another level of production," Johnson added.

He went on: "What the government must remember, on a whole, is that small farmers are a vital link in food production, but they are not going to be in the position to invest in the farm in the way Government would want them to do."

An agro park is an area equipped with the requisite infrastructure and facilities to facilitate integrated agricultural production. Under the agro-park programme, 8,000 acres of underutilised government lands will be leased to private individuals for agricultural purposes.

Private-sector input

Agriculture minister Roger Clarke said the Government has already identified private-sector input to the tune of $1.5 billion.

He said the agro parks could reduce the country's food import bill by US$47 million by 2015.

Johnson is adamant that small farmers in St Ann are included in the plan, and is already putting a proposal together.

"What we have requested of them is to ask, through the Land Agency, for us to get about 200 acres which would be put back into livestock production and build this agri-business from there. It is going to mean that we use some of the mined-out land for small crop production and dairy production," Johnson said.

Already, he said, a manufacturer in St Ann has agreed to accept fresh milk from the small farmers if they can develop that industry. Another area to be targeted is poultry production.

"What I'm asking the MPs to do is, instead of giving out chicken to people, let us have a coordinated approach so that we can start a satellite industry that will eventually grow to employ people in St Ann," Johnson suggested.