Agro Project Generates Employment For Rural Youth

Over 300 young people, aged of 15 to 29, in four parishes islandwide, have benefitted significantly from the Scientific Research Council’s (SRC) Rural Youth Employment (RUYE) project, since its inception in January 2010.

The initiative, a partnership involving the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), is geared towards reducing the incidence of poverty, unemployment and exclusion among rural youth, deemed vulnerable. This, by equipping them with the requisite skills to undertake agricultural or agro-processing ventures.

The programme has received funding support to the tune of US$1.25 million, from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Project Manager, SRC, Ruth Simpson, informs JIS News that the programme, which is slated to conclude later this month, seeks to strengthen the capacity of youths in Jamaica’s rural communities to capitalise on income generating opportunities in a sustainable manner, through profitable agricultural or agro-processing enterprises.

Since its implementation, the programme has assisted more than 300 young people in over 20 communities, to start their own agricultural/agro-processing ventures, in several areas. These include : honey production/beekeeping; goat rearing; greenhouse applications and production; and sorrel and sweet potato agro-processing.  

Some of the communities involved include : Pusey Hill and Asia in Manchester; Llandewey in St. Thomas; Grant’s Mountain, Aboukir, Hind’s Town, Pedro River and McNie inSt. Ann; and Wakefield in Trelawny.

Miss Simpson informs that the parishes and communities were selected based on the PIOJ’s poverty map, which indicated the most vulnerable communities in the country.

She notes that under the project, the participants were provided with training in the areas of human relations and social skills; business development; entrepreneurship; mentorship; technical beekeeping and honey processing; and goat herding.

“With the unattached (and) unemployed youth in the communities, we gathered them together and said to them ‘what is a project that you think could work for in this community?’ and we introduced them to a range of possible projects, and based on the experiences within their groups, they selected one,” she explains.

Citing examples, the Project Manager says the abundance of flora and fauna in the Blue Mountain, prompted the Llandewey group in St. Thomas to venture into beekeeping and goat herding. Additionally, she informs of two goat rearing projects inMcNie and Pedro River; a green house project in Aboukir; a sweet potato and sorrel agro processing project in Hind’s Town; with a beekeeping project slated to be established in White River, St. Ann.

RUYE has also facilitated the implementation of a sorrel and guava agro- processing venture in Wakefield, Trelawny, as well as goat rearing and beekeeping activities in Pusey Hill and Asia in Manchester.

Miss Simpson points out that while “natural attrition” has seen a number of the participants “falling out” of the programme, a significant number of youths have remained and made considerable progress with their ventures.

One such group is the Llandewey beekeepers, who have continued to do exceptionally well.   

At the start of the project, the participants were presented with a total of five bee hives per person, to assist them in kick-starting their businesses. In addition to the bee hives, they were also presented with protective gear and a containerized honey processing facility from which they would bottle, label and sell their products.

Communications Officer, SRC, Michelle Morris, informs that, “With the training received, these youths have, since, surpassed the minimum amount of hives given to them and have multiplied them, triple fold, and more.”

She notes that the Llandewey group, which received some 275 bee hives in September 2011, has since produced in excess of 400 quarts of honey. “(With) all remaining constant, these beekeepers can potentially earn approximately $60,000 from four hives per year,” she remarks.

Beekeeper and Llandewey group member, Fabian Williams, who joined the programme in September 2011, was presented with the prize for the Most Outstanding Participant, during a recent awards ceremony.  Since joining the project, Fabian has multiplied his four hives to 25 within eight months which has, to date, yielded 25 gallons of honey.

Speaking with JIS News, Fabian informs that he hopes to take beekeeping to the ‘highest possible level’, and is planning to double his 25 boxes by May 2013, when his next harvest is due.

He indicates that he is enjoying the task of beekeeping to the extent that he will be quitting his job as an electrician to concentrate solely on his new vocation. He points out that his recent award has motivated him to excel even further.

“I realise that I am very good at this thing; so I just put my mind and heart to it and decide that I am going to do this for a living,” he says. “Right now I am not stopping; I am just climbing till I reach the top.”

Fabian has set himself the goal of expanding his business to more than 300 boxes within the next three years.

While the project is slated to end this month, Ms. Simpson hopes that additional funding can be sourced from various other organisations to assist in facilitating a second phase of the initiative.

“If there isn’t a phase II, what is being done is that we are trying to see if we can get some funding agency interested in completing individual projects. The Planning Institute of Jamaica has been lobbying agencies and we’re hoping that even if there is no phase II, that these projects will (at least) be completed,” Miss Simpson states.