A young Jamaican farmer displays his pumpkin (kabocha squash) almost ready for picking. (File photo)

UK-funded project to boost productivity of farmers in Jamaica’s southern belt

A young Jamaican farmer displays his pumpkin (kabocha squash) almost ready for picking. (File photo)

The Government of Jamaica, with the support of the United Kingdom and Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), has launched a US$23.1-million initiative that will assist farmers in the communities of Amity Hall, St. Catherine, and Parnassus, Clarendon, to boost their productivity and access markets for their produce.

Last week Thursday, representatives of the UK High Commission in Jamaica and CDB joined Jamaican Government officials to launch the Southern Plains Agricultural Development Project.

Within the scope of the project are the installation or upgrade of irrigation, drainage and flood control systems; and improvements to farm roads, which will increase productivity and mitigate the effects of climate change.

The scope of the Southern Plains Agricultural Development Project include the installation or upgrade of irrigation, drainage and flood control systems. (File photo)

In addition, it includes a matching grant scheme that will assist small-scale farmers from disadvantaged groups to invest in on-farm irrigation equipment and agri-business ventures. Farmers will also benefit from training in climate-smart agriculture and certification in international standards in good agricultural practices.

Economic recovery through agriculture

According to CDB President Dr William Warren Smith, “Agriculture can play an important role in Jamaica’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, we are much more acutely aware of farming communities like those in the Southern Plains and how they can lead the transformation of agriculture into a resilient, competitive, and sustainable sector.

Caribbean Development Bank President Dr William Warren Smith (File photo)

To do so successfully, however, it is imperative that Jamaica, and, indeed, all of CDB’s Borrowing Members Countries give urgent attention to investing in activities that build capacity, improve food security and, where possible, re-shore supply chains,” he continued.

Agriculture is still the main source of income in the communities of Amity Hall and Parnassus, which were previously known for sugar and banana cultivation dominated. At present, most households plant cash crops in kitchen gardens and rear livestock. Residents include poor and vulnerable groups such as women without access to land and people with disabilities, as well as men and young people whose livelihood depend on small-scale farming.

Despite the arable nature of the southern plains of Jamaica, the area is very vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as irregular rainfall and prolonged drought. Moreover, due to poor road networks, the farmers’ limited access to markets have resulted in slow economic development in these communities.

“Agriculture can play an important role in Jamaica’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic”

— Dr William Warren Smith, president, Caribbean Development Bank

According to the CDB, this intervention will, therefore, enhance agricultural marketing and facilitate capacity building towards compliance with internationally recognised food safety management schemes that will increase farmers’ access to high-end markets, both within Jamaica and for export.

Strengthening the backbone of Jamaica’s economy

Toward the project, the Government of the Unid Kingdom will provide a grant of £17.3 million (US$22.5 million) through the CDB-administered United Kingdom Caribbean Infrastructure Fund, while the Government of Jamaica will contribute £500,000 (US$600,000).

In his remarks at the launch of the project, British High Commissioner to Jamaica, Asif Ahmad noted, “The UK is proud to fund this transformational agriculture project in Jamaica. We know that agriculture is the backbone of Jamaica’s economy and we are pleased that this project will boost production, improve competitiveness and ensure that farm produce meets the standards required for export and the tourism industry.

United Kingdom High Commissioner to Jamaica Asif Ahmad (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Adding to this, the UK’s Development Director to the Caribbean, Stefan Kossoff underscored that the “project will deliver benefits in an inclusive and equitable way, by building the capacity of local farmers — including women, youth and people with disabilities — to secure their livelihoods and reduce poverty as they get access to new markets”.