Sat | Jul 24, 2021

From morass to greenhouse, Westmoreland farmers happy

Published:Monday | March 22, 2021 | 12:09 AMAlbert Ferguson/Gleaner Writer

WESTERN BUREAU:

Twelve farmers, eight women and four men who formerly did their farming in the Negril Morass, are today enjoying much better returns, thanks to a $5-million project spearheaded by the Westmoreland Municipal Corporation (WMC) and the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ), which now sees them producing sweet peppers in a 3,000-square-foot greenhouse.

The project was implemented under the WMC’s Small Farmers Climate Resilience Improvement Project (SFCRIP), which was funded in part by a grant fund from the Special Climate Change Adaptation Fund through the EFJ.

“We had a problem farming in the wetland, because we could only produce for about six months and the next six was pure rain. Now, in the greenhouse, we can produce for a whole year,” said Clive Pringle, president of the Sheffield farmers group during a tour of the facility on Thursday.

The greenhouse boasts a 100-square-foot nursery to supply hybrid seedling and planting stocks to local farmers and is equipped with a water-harvesting system, water storage tanks, water pump, and solar floodlights.

“We were farming in the wetlands and the National Environment Planning Agency had a problem with us inside there, and then the parish council stepped in and secured the land for us,” added Pringle.

Hard times

He told The Gleaner that he and several other farmers have long been tilling the soil in the morass and selling their produce to hotels and restaurants in Negril, but while they made a living from it, they have had hard times in the past.

“This will better our living condition and we will not have any problems,” said Pringle, in expressing his delight to be engaging in technology-enhanced farming. “The ladies are happy now, and when the tourist industry picks up, we know we can make money out of it,” added Pringle.

Beverley Brown, a senior member of the Sheffield farmers group, is impressed with the new arrangement, which has exposed her to greenhouse technology.

“It’s much easier now … less work. When we were in the wetland it was a whole lot of work, but farming here is a lot easier and less pressure,” said Brown. “Individually, we use to farm in the wetland where we struggled, until we got a window to sell our produce in the farmers’ market. When it (the farmers market) just started, things used to go well for us, until they started to bring in other farmers from other parishes and it became a struggle for us.”

Farmers far better off

Bertel Moore, chairman of the WMC and councillor for the Negril division, is quite pleased with the new development, saying the farmers are now far better off.

“The IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) helped us with funding for this project. It was always my pleasure to do something for these farmers up here, because I know how hard they have toiled from year to year,” said Moore.

“The big problem with them was if they supply to the hotels, what they have only served for a certain period of time. Now, with the greenhouse, they can supply all year round and this is what I wanted for them so that the hotel industry will always be taking their produce,” explained Moore.

Charmaine Webber, programme officer at the Environment Foundation, is delighted for what the farmers have been able to achieve so far.

“We started a bit rocky, but we are pleased today, particularly the fact that a lot of the farmers are women. They are at a very good location and the fact is, they are not just doing greenhouse farming, they are doing an open field,” said Webber.

Shadae Allen, project manager for SFCRIP, said the aim of the project is to reduce the climate impacts on small farmers and enhance their livelihood.

“Through that objective, we were able to strengthen the institutional capacity of the farmers by conducting training in small business management for 34 farmers, to include these 12 from the Sheffield frmers group,” said Allen.