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Gov't agencies blamed for St Thomas crop losses

Published:Tuesday | January 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

The failure of Agro-Invest Corporation (AIC) and other government agencies to provide necessary and timely technical advice to farmers at the Plantain Garden River (PGR) Agro Park in St Thomas was a major factor in crop loss which has left many farmers facing bankruptcy.

This came at a press conference hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture at Hope Gardens yesterday, called to clarify a Jamaica Observer lead story on Monday which spoke to mismanagement on the part of AIC which has left farmers owing millions to the St Thomas Co-operative Credit Union.

Ministry officials painted the farmers as a band of renegades more concerned with doing their own thing, rather than following the lead AIC, the ministry's investment facilitation arm.

Played catch-up

Permanent Secretary Donovan Stanberry admitted as much during the press conference.

"By the time we got into (PGR) to start an agro park, an official agro park, we were literally playing catch-up. Enthusiasm is good, and we saluted it, because we love the spirit, but we literally were playing catch-up in terms of putting in the infrastructure and following them," he declared.

The farmers, who according to ministry officials were cultivating onions on a commercial basis for the first time, went about things the wrong way, and this was further compounded by issues with the irrigation system.

While the irrigation problem was corrected in quick order, the issue of weed control emerged as major factor in the crop failure.