Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer
Struggling yam farmers in the districts of Allsides and Wait-a-Bit in Trelawny are bemoaning the lack of support from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and its affiliate, the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).
"We continue to hear these big announce-ments every day, but big announcements do not help when my input cost is greater than my returns," said 63-year-old Noel Forbes, who has been a yam farmer all his life.
"We were badly beaten by Hurricane Sandy, we are being targeted by thieves, and GCT is now on agricultural inputs, but no one has sought to determine what is happening to us as farmers."
However, according to Mervin Green, the acting RADA parish manager for Trelawny, the agency's technical officer for the area is constantly on the ground in the area. However, he argued that his team must be prudent with the limited resources it is given to operate.
"We have been in the area and meeting with farmers in groups mainly because our resources are limited," Green told Western Focus earlier this week. "Our technical officer for the area and our marketing officer work closely with the groups, but we have limited resources to meet farmers individually. If a farmer has a special need, we will make arrangements to address it."
According to Green, some of the farmers are not willing to work as a group, and as a consequence, they do not attend meetings or training, making it difficult for the agency to attend to their needs.
However, a less-than-impressed Forbes, who schooled his six children using earnings from tilling the soil at a time when farming was far more viable, is contending that no such meeting has taken place in his area for more than a year.
Paul Patmore, the councillor for the Lorrimers division, has rubbished RADA's claim, and like Rowe, he said the agency had adopted a partisan approach to addressing the needs of the struggling farmers, who badly need assistance.
"RADA is a mere distribution agent. It is mostly politically connected farmers who are benefiting," said Patmore, who is an independent councillor. "This must stop because our farmers have to be operating under trying circumstances."
Investigations done by Western Focus revealed that each RADA extension officer is allocated a travelling allowance for only 400km (240 miles) monthly to travel around and provide basic technical information. They operate at a ratio of 800 farmers to one extension officer.
While he is generally dissatisfied with the input of the state in local agriculture, 63-year-old Colin Graham is also worried that the failure of successive governments to provide them with titles for the lands on which they farm is further compounding their problems.
The farmers in the area also raised concerns about the yam-packaging house they were promised, but which has not yet materialised. Neither Councillor Patmore nor Member of Parliament Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert was able to shed light on the much-needed structure.