Thirteen farming groups in seven parishes have been trained in the practical operations of commercial greenhouse farming under an initiative by the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI), a programme of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), in partnership with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).
The project is aimed at improving plant quality and production of tomatoes and sweet peppers in four projects in Manchester, four in St Elizabeth, and one each in the parishes of St Thomas, St Mary, Clarendon, Westmoreland, and Hanover.
The training has led to increased crop production per unit area and more environmentally friendly cultivation practices. Participating farms now have the capacity of year-round production of high-quality agricultural crops with lower pesticide residue levels. Participants are also getting a better appreciation of the prudent use of fertiliser and other critical inputs.
PROFIT AND LOSS
Vincent Thompson, agricultural specialist with REDI, explained how this can mean the difference between profit and loss: "Ninety per cent of farmers across Jamaica are wasting money through the incorrect application of fertiliser. Greenhouse farming involves minimum use of water, space and fertiliser per unit of production with higher quality produce which, in turn, fetches a much higher price than comparable open-field cultivation."
Meanwhile, Ludlow Stimpson of the Mid St Elizabeth Producers Group, who has been involved in greenhouse farming for some time, said the training has significantly improved his knowledge in a number of areas, including identification of different types of diseases and the appropriate remedies.
He shared some of the other benefits: "Yield is better with the use of fertigation and the types of seeds used. Money and time have been saved, because we also realised the need to make a new start in some areas, instead of persevering with old planting programmes."
In 2009, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries embarked on a programme to modernise agricultural production through the use of greenhouse technology, establishing a special unit within RADA.
Under the JSIF REDI project, an additional 81,000 square feet or 1.8 acres has been added to greenhouse crop production, at a value of J$58.5 million.