RADA is a failure - Agri stakeholders say agency not fulfilling mandate
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
A KEY government agency established to drive economic growth and stability through agricultural development has been failing to deliver on its mandate, stakeholders in the sectors have said.
Mildred Crawford, president of the Jamaica Network of Rural Women Producers, told a Gleaner Editors' Forum on Wednesday that the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) has not been sufficiently serving the needs of members of her association.
"It is not serving the members. Most of my members are not benefiting," Crawford said.
RADA, Jamaica's chief agricultural extension and rural development agency, was established to, among other things, drive the development and implementation of a programme of continuous training for farmers and rural women in order to improve and increase their knowledge and capability levels and to mobilise agricultural credit and other input opportunities for small farmers. The entity has a marketing unit that is responsible for assisting farmers to locate markets for their produce.
But Crawford said, "More than 35 per cent of our rural women farmers have not seen the extension officers for years.
"They are the ones that are supposed to be offering that technical support that takes us from one level to another and also create those linkages between the various sectors that would contribute to sustainability," Crawford added.
"One of the challenges that we have is how RADA supports rural development. If you are living too far, or if your farm is too far, as a small farmer, they tell you that they have to place the priority on the larger farmers, and the Government is not giving them enough travelling to come and see you," Crawford claimed.
RADA, this year, has received a capital budget of $20 million for the provision of extension services. The figure, which declined from $39 million last year, is earmarked for providing seeds, seedlings, pesticides, tools and other equipment, and to train farmers. The entity's recurrent budget, which pays for housekeeping expenses, was cut from $934 million last year to $902 million this year.
More needs to be done
Crawford said product development was critical to the advancement of agriculture but lamented that rural women, though having made strides in agriculture, lacked the capacity to go further. The point was not lost on Evelyn Smith, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), who said that while Jamaican farmers and producers had developed products, enough had not been done to introduce them to her sector. Using the example of Otaheite apple syrup and cassava pancake mix, Smith said she tried it in her hotel and the guests enjoyed the breakfast items.
"There isn't a good marketing mechanism to get those products out for more people to access them, and so a significant distribution and marketing mechanism needs to be set up," Smith said. She told the Editors' Forum that it was a matter that she had taken to RADA, but to date, there had not been much action on it.
Dr Keith Amiel, corporate affairs manager, Caribbean Broilers Group, has argued that growth in agriculture cannot be achieved without specialisation. He said it is impossible for the same person doing farming to be involved in research and development, processing, and marketing of the product.
"That is not the agriculture of the future. We have to go to the value chain. Research of a produce is for the researcher, processing of a produce is for high-tech processing plants … we are not making the transition from banana republic and cutlass empire to the modern food chains and value chains that are required," Amiel said.