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As climate change becomes more real, Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Andrew Holness appealed to farmers and Jamaicans to use science and technology in their practices. The use of science and technology will help to soften the effects of global warming. The Prime Minister made his appeal during the recently concluded Denbigh Agriculture, Industrial, and Food Show.
Climate Change is a Real Threat – PM
In his remarks, the Prime Minister said that climate change is a real phenomenon that is affecting Jamaica in real ways. He further stated that the rainfall pattern in Jamaica has changed and this is causing various problems. One of the problems is that areas not supplied by the National Water Commission (NWC) but rely on rainfall experienced severe drought conditions. He noted that last year, more rainfall occurred on the western side of the island compared to the north-eastern end that usually experienced higher rainfall.
Farmers are being asked to use innovation, science, and technology in their agricultural practices. The Prime Minister also appealed to Jamaicans to do their part to mitigate against the effects of climate change. He is discouraging the use of slash and burn agriculture, a long-standing practice of burning land for planting crops. He encouraged farmers to use other farming techniques to produce more. Modern agriculture will also be better for the environment.
Plant More Trees, Protect Jamaica’s Watershed
The Prime Minister suggested that the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) should become “an advocate of drip irrigation technology, and the use of mulching to develop more creative ways of capturing rainwater for the preservation of our environment because some of our own long-standing agricultural practices have contributed to the very problem that we now face.”
The Prime Minister also encouraged Jamaicans to plant more trees to help in rehabilitating Jamaica’s watershed areas. “But, if every Jamaican were to make it their point of duty to look in their backyard and say, ‘You know what? This little spot could take a tree and give us some shade,’ it would be helpful. Just that one action could help to increase the number of trees by let’s say a million trees per year,” he said.
He acknowledged that this solution will not address the problem of climate change overnight. It is, however, one of many actions to take to help reduce global warming.
Early Efforts in Modern Agriculture
But, this is not the first time Jamaican farmers are encouraged to embrace modern agricultural technology and abandon the ‘machete and hoe’.
In an article in 2018, the late former prime minister Edward Seaga recounted the peaks and valleys of Jamaica’s effort to go full scale into modern agriculture.
The peaks included brief success in Spring Plains in Clarendon during the early 1980s. That was where Israeli farmers cleared 100 acres of land and planted winter vegetables – primarily zucchinis for export to the United States. The main technology used at the time was drip irrigation. This technique involved the measured application of water directly to the roots of the plants using computers. It was also a cost-saving measure that was effective in producing healthy crops.
Following on the early success of the Israelis, the Jamaican government decided to expand the programme. This expansion would enable Jamaican farmers to benefit from a new way of cultivating a non-traditional crop. Dubbed Agro 21 to coincide with the 21st anniversary of Jamaica’s independence, the project was poised to take off. Not long afterward, torrential rains on more than one occasions caused major dislocations in the project. Other efforts to recover failed and the government eventually discontinued the Agro 21 project. Seaga pointed to the limited support that the business sector gave to the agricultural sector at the time. He noted that the business culture at the time did not regard agriculture as a profitable venture.
Hydroponics Greenhouse Farming
Fast forward to the arrival of hydroponics. This farming technique involves the growing of crops in a specially prepared chemical solution without the need for soil. Farmers grow crops in greenhouses that yielded a higher quality product fit for export. Seaga recounted his encounter with an operator who had ventured into hydroponics for the growing of long-stemmed roses for export to the US market. This operator had quit his secure job in the private sector to build a large, horticultural greenhouse in a prime location with the right climate.
Unfortunately, that farmer’s efforts to satisfy the US market with roses possessing long enough stems failed. He then turned to the production of lettuce for the local hotel market. There he scored big. Using the greenhouse technique, he produced a higher volume of lettuce of better quality. He also produced various varieties of the crop. Success, however, quickly turned to failure. The greenhouse operator, buoyed by the spectacular outturn of his technologically enabled farm, extended his ambitions to producing crops for export all over the Caribbean. He ventured into tomato production, but shortly after, his bankers called the loan.
By Seaga’s account, this entrepreneurial farmer was left struggling to save his home. His greenhouse project died, the multi-acre site in shambles, and persons who would have continued to benefit from the farm scattered. Unfortunately for modern agriculture, “mercantile and financial interests” failed to see the promise of such agricultural enterprises.
All is not lost, however. The Jamaican government is pursuing modern agriculture through the production of various non-traditional crops through agro parks. These parks provide support to Jamaica’s agriculture sector through the availability of physical space, training, expert support, and marketing. Jamaican farmers are also encouraged to invest in the agro park programme to benefit from the combination of these technical services. Currently, agro parks exist in Ebony Park, Spring Plains in Clarendon, Elim in St. Elizabeth, and Amity Hall in St. Catherine. The Jamaican government intends to roll out additional agro parks in the coming years.
Time for a Paradigm Shift
So, what would it take for the Jamaican farmer to switch from their traditional mode toward what is arguably a more effective and modern approach? By all accounts, the necessary resources would be vital. Sufficient land, enough capital, and the technical know-how are key ingredients for a successful venture into modern, technologically driven agriculture. Larger farmers or investors may be able to adapt quickly. The traditional small, rural farmers may have a tougher time to move into modern agriculture without help. The Jamaican government is on board with its agro parks. A shift in mindset by the business and financial sectors in support of agriculture as a profitable venture would also help.