Thu | Jul 16, 2020

As Green hunts markets for surplus, Shaw urges farmers to ramp up production

Published:Friday | April 10, 2020 | 12:00 AMChristopher Sergu/ Gleaner Writer
Nicholas Ducke, manager of Dencon Farms Jamaica Ltd, and State Minister Floyd Green inspect a field of onions in Spring Plain Clarendon, on April 7.

Jamaica’s cultivators are being encouraged to ramp up production, with input suppliers offering a raft of incentives for Farmers’ Month, even as the country is struggling to find markets for the backlog of perishable produce that has been accumulating amid mass hotel closures and restrictions on dining options at restaurants.

State Minister Floyd Green on Tuesday welcomed the support of the private sector in helping to offset market oversupply. And Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Audley Shaw, in a virtual launch from his Hope Gardens head office on Thursday, gave the assurance that observance, even in spirit only, of April as Farmers’ Month would go ahead despite the COVID-19 outbreak.

All activities related to Farmers’ Month have been cancelled, but president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), Lenworth Fulton, who shared the platform with Shaw, explained that “we are giving them (farmers) the same benefits minus the public gatherings, which by law we cannot do”.

The JAS president said that farmers who were registered with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), the Government’s extension service, and the JAS could access discounts ranging from between three and 15 per cent from Newport Jamaica Limited, T. Geddes Grant Limited, Hardware & Lumber, and AG-Chem, upon presentation of their identification cards. St Jago Farm Supplies, out of St Catherine, has gone a different route by issuing vouchers to the JAS, which will be distributed to its members.

Shaw was upbeat about cranking up production. Following on the 7.8 per cent growth in domestic agriculture achieved in the last quarter, he was looking to build on this over the next year.

“As we get into the traditional dry spell, our drought mitigation programme, at a cost of some $100 million, is aiming to increase agricultural production by at least five per cent over a 12-month period for vegetables, fruits, condiments, roots, and tubers, and small ruminants,” Shaw said.

“Never cease from planting. We look forward to planting season and to work together towards an abundant harvest ahead as we plough the fields and spread the good seeds on the land,” he urged farmers.

This is despite an earlier admission that there was no shortage of food in the island, but there have been challenges surrounding the management and distribution of excess supplies, Shaw said.

“For these reasons, as the ministry looks to stimulating growth, we have every intention of ramping up production in all areas of agriculture,” he declared.

On Tuesday, Green was in Clarendon to oversee the first delivery of Irish potatoes by Dencon Jamaica Foods Limited as part of an initiative by the ministry, through RADA, to provide market access to small farmers and to take excess produce off their hands, especially in response to market gaps being experienced from COVID-19. The company has committed to purchasing a total of 400,000lb of Irish potatoes, which is about half of the excess volume the ministry is projecting will be produced.

“We engaged our private-sector partners after identifying that the downturn in the hotel sector left farmers with excess produce. We wanted assistance in purchasing and storing that excess produce,” he said.

Green added that the ministry had also received commitments from major supermarkets to purchase additional volumes of produce.

Shaw, however, noted that there were some gains to be made in agriculture from the coronavirus-induced displacement.

‘This COVID pandemic is serving to reinforce the ideals of food security and, indeed, the strategic initiatives of the national agricultural programme led by this ministry,” he said.