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Local farmers get competitiveness training

Published:Tuesday | October 13, 2015 | 8:12 PMChristopher Serju

In the ongoing efforts to improve the global competitiveness and ensure sustainability of Jamaica's agricultural sector, priority attention is being given to protecting the health and safety of the primary producers of fresh food: the nation's farmers.

"To this end, the Agricultural Competitiveness Programme (ACP) will educate our farmers on best environmental practices and the use of personal protective equipment," Petronia Colley, programme director of the ACP, told The Gleaner on Monday. "We have invested US$19,000 to conduct this training and have provided high-performing farmers with the basic protective gear to carry out their daily functions."

Colley, who was addressing the 'On Farm Environmental Management' workshop for 100 farmers drawn from agro parks across Jamaica at the Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel, St Andrew, also spoke to the issue of climate change and its implications for agriculture.

"The Government now has to look at ways to preserve the agricultural environment through the 'reduce, recycle, and reuse' methodology. We have to encourage more stringent conservation methods as is evidenced by our change in rainfall patterns, rising temperatures, droughts, storms and floods. The typical farmer now has to become aware of his footprint and impact on our climatic cycle and adjust accordingly," Colley warned.

She emphasised the importance of farmers developing a healthy respect for the many chemicals they regularly use to improve and increase productivity and of taking seriously their responsibilities to themselves, consumers, and the environment.

"Much of the air that the farmers breathe is unclean and sometimes lethal, especially during the 'spraying period' when high levels of pesticide vapour, dusty fields, organic biological contaminants, dangerous levels of gaseous chemical contaminants and many others present potential health risks. This means that the farmers have to protect themselves on a daily basis, and equipping them with the proper personal protective equipment is the only way to ensure longevity in this profession," the ACP programme director noted.

The workshop saw presentations by a number of experts on a wide range of issues, which drew active participation from the farmers, who also shared some of their experiences in relation to topics such as chemicals and the environment, use and safe disposal of waste from livestock, environmental management through agro-forestry, and sustainable natural resource management, among others.

The workshop, which saw all participants presented with basic safety equipment kits and certificates, is being implemented by the agriculture ministry and funded to the tune of US$15 million, through the Inter-American Development Bank, in three components. Component one looks at 'Development of Farm Linkages'; with 'Food Safety Management Control System' being addressed in the second segment; and 'Agro-processing Value Chain Development' in the final component.