Training/education a must for Jamaican agriculture to progress

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

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The son of a farmer and native of the farm-rich Christiana region of Manchester North Eastern, where he has been Member of Parliament since 1993, Mr Audley Shaw, is well qualified to oversee the agriculture ministry.

No wonder then that he has delivered himself with great authority about farming and its many problems since his reassignment from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries in March.

The obvious need to bring more land into agricultural production has been a recurring theme for Mr Shaw. Equally, he recognises the need to rationalise agriculture so that farmers earn more for their labour than is currently the case. There are far too many cases of effort and great expense going to waste because of market gluts; and also of farmers being ripped off by so-called middle men.

We note his commitment to ensure that Jamaican farmers benefit more from linkages to the hotel/tourism sector. We are told that 60 per cent of Jamaica's food imports make its way to that sector.

We applaud Mr Shaw's assertion that, “We have to find a way to penetrate that very critical market — a market that is now over four million tourists.”

But Mr Shaw also recognises that a major drawback for Jamaican farmers is the failure by so many to adapt to the changing technologies and realities. To effectively compete in the hotel sector, with food suppliers from overseas, local farmers must develop greater cost efficiency and reliability.

Jamaican farmers are now in a world in which back-breaking labour using the machete and the hoe won't, by themselves, suffice. There must also be the use of available modern technology to improve production, proper attention to sustainable techniques to ensure preservation of the soil and a farm-friendly environment, careful forward-planning inclusive of contracts with those willing to buy and with the ability to pay, and savvy use of market intelligence to avoid the accursed glut.

Training, then, becomes of critical importance. For that reason, this newspaper applauds the recent course for 166 farmers from St Thomas and St Andrew. Following 13 weeks of practical training they received certificates in climate-smart land husbandry, inclusive of techniques aimed at protecting the land from erosion.

We are told that the recent function brings to 243 the number of farmers who have been certified by the programme, called Farmer Field School.

We note that Mr Shaw told the audience at the recent function that a scientific approach to farming will “increase output and productivity while, at the same time, preserve the land for the future”.

We are encouraged by his suggestion that the Government is working to create new markets and that there are good export opportunities in the Caribbean Community.

Crucially, we look forward to more training opportunities for farmers across Jamaica, not just in climate-smart agriculture but in all areas of farming, including marketing.

In this brave and challenging new world in which Jamaica must compete, training/education in every aspect, including agriculture, must be priority.

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