Christopher Serju, Gleaner writer
FIELD SANITATION, worker hygiene, the importance of record keeping and treatment of water used in the agricultural process were among the standout topics for the more than 50 participants who successfully completed the recent week-long JIFSAN Train The Trainer Programme in good agricultural practices.
Drawn from a wide cross section of government agencies, exporters and farmers they engaged in classroom exercises and workshops at The Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston, as well as a field trip to two yam-exporting facilities.
For Christine Wright, secretary of Palmetto Exports which operates out of the AMC complex in Wait-a-bit, Trelawny, and trades in yam, dasheen and pumpkin, the intense workshop was an eye-opener. She told AgroGleaner: "I have learnt a lot about the best way to make food safe for customers," promising that she would discuss these with her boss, with the aim of implementing some changes with immediate effect.
"For example, sometimes you would take the yams from the sink and just add them to the crate, but even though you are washing the crate there can still be germs there - micro-organisms. So now we will put a piece of clean tarpaulin in the crate before placing the yam in there and bring them to the cutting station," she explained.
Meanwhile, for Lloyd Benjamin, president of the Springfield Production and Marketing Organisation in St Thomas, the modules on field sanitation were of particular interest.
He shared with AgroGleaner: "There are things that we took for granted, such as paying attention to the water, but now I have a much better understanding of why the treatment of water used in the whole agricultural process has to be taken serious. The importance of creating buffer zones between your field and animal plots; in fact, the treatment of organic manure has to be taken serious going forward in farming for export."
The seasoned farmer admitted that while the changes were many, they were simple and practical. "One of the important thing that has to take place is record keeping and the development of standards so that the workers on the farms and everybody are doing what is supposed to be done; the ability to check back to ensure that what is said to be done, is being done," said Benjamin.
Heartened by the response
Meanwhile, Stephannie Hutchinson Ffrench, project manager for the Rural Economic Development Initiative arm of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund , which funded the project with a $49-million loan from the Work Bank, was heartened by the response.
She explained: "I think the training went well. One of the indicators is that there was no attrition, even though the days were long - from 8:30 until 6:00 o'clock, with people coming from far. That indicates they found the information very relevant."
The participants also clearly impressed the lecturers with Donna Pahl out of the University of Maryland, USA, noting: "On the pretest, people did very well and there were really great discussions and a great deal of questioning at the end of every presentation."
Her colleague, Professor Maria Plaza from the University of Puerto Rico, was equally impressed. "I think that we accomplished what we were looking for ... there was a really great perception of the conference and they were really interested and participated a lot in the activities."
For Professor Plaza, the field trip to two yam-packing houses and a yam farm provided valuable insight into local agricultural practices. "The packing houses look good, the workers had a lot of the proper practices in place and were able to provide good discussion on ideas to implement for actual farms, instead of just looking on during the training," reported Plaza.