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Government Provides $7.5M to Assist Agro Park Farmers in St. Thomas

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Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Roger Clarke, says the Government has pumped $7.5 million into a recovery effort to help farmers at the Plantain Garden River Agro Park, in St. Thomas, who have incurred losses in a recent onion crop.

“We decided that we are going to get them back on their feet, and we injected $7.5 million to see what we could do to help them. The credit union has been working with them, they have been preparing land, and they have been planting pumpkin,” the Minister stated on Monday, January 6, at a press briefing at the Ministry, in St. Andrew.

“In the area that they planted the onion, we decided that we would not go into onion in that area for the succeeding crop. We will put something else in, like pumpkin and pepper. They have pepper in the ground, they have Irish potato in the ground, and they are doing some work. We have not abandoned them,” he added.

The Minister was responding to media reports, which highlighted the failure of the onion crop, and the hardship faced by the farmers.

Mr. Clarke stressed that the St. Thomas Cooperative Union has also been providing weekly grocery support to the farmers, which to date has amounted to some $650,000. A loan scheme was facilitated by the Agro Investment Corporation (AIC), and the financial institution to provide working capital for the farmers.

“The credit union, during the Christmas period, and up to now, has helped…because they know that the crop had failed,” the Minister said.

Mr. Clarke pointed out that the failure of the onion crop was due in part, to a faulty irrigation system.

The resuscitation plan for the area included: establishment of 40 acres of onions (delayed until Spring planting season); production of 50 acres of pumpkin, with potential revenue of $20 million; 25 acres of hot pepper (15 acres of Scotch Bonnet, and 10 acres West Indian Red), with potential revenue of $14.4 and $18 million, respectively; along with other short term crops, to enable cash flow for the affected farmers.

Other support provided for the recovery plan involved an onion specialist, a marketing consultant, and an infrastructure engineering consultant, along with farmers field school, focusing on technology.

Irrigation work is also taking place on 60 additional acres of land, a new diesel pump has been procured to replace one that is inadequate, a tractor programme has been instituted for the farmers, and AIC is in discussion with the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) to obtain fund for expansion of the irrigation system.

Meanwhile, the Minister noted that the other agro parks, while they have had their own challenges, as would occur in business ventures, are working well. “None of the benefits that we gave these farmers (at Plantain Garden) were afforded to farmers in the other agro parks,” Mr. Clarke added.

By Garfield L. Angus

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