United Way Helping Farmers To Bounce Back

Some 80 farmers in the parishes of Clarendon, St Portland, Kingston, St Andrew, and St Ann are set to receive a total of 70,000 vegetable seedlings and 300 fruit trees, along with inputs such as chemicals and fertiliser, as well as technical support.

A cheque for $3.6 million was presented to the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) by United Way of Jamaica on Wednesday during the virtual launch of phase two of the JAS/United Way of Jamaica Project – Agri-Resilience Response to COVID 19. During the pilot phase, at least 20 farmers from St Catherine benefited to the tune of $600,000 and were provided with hot pepper, sweet pepper, tomato, cucumber and carrot seedlings, as well as lime, mango and avocado trees.

Project Manager Janet Pullen gave the assurance that the initiative would be well managed, with tentative plans for farmers’ markets in all the parishes to be held in time for Christmas to help the farmers sell their crops. She said that parish managers are mandated to monitor every participating farmer, providing six-week reports supplemented by videos, where possible. She also spoke to the responsibility of the beneficiaries.

“We are committed to ensuring that this succeeds,” she declared. She explained that in addition to the direct assistance to beneficiaries, some of the money will be used to repair a tractor owned by the JAS to aid in land preparation.

“The farmer must plant every seedling and fruit tree before they are given the cheque to go purchase their chemicals and to help them with a stipend. As soon as the seedlings are given out, parish managers will start visiting to ensure that immediately upon completion, the invoices can be sent into the office and then cheques can be drawn.”

Meanwhile, First Vice-President of the JAS, Denton Alvaranga, said that in addition to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the harsh lessons learnt should provide a template for improved agricultural practices going forward.

He noted that farming has always been a risky business of which they have long been aware – production, financial, environmental and personal, among other - but no one could have anticipated the COVID-19 risks which devastated thousands of farmers all over Jamaica.

History Of Resilience

Local farmers, he said, have a strong history of resilience, always bouncing back after any disaster, but more so if they are given a little incentive. This time around, though, among the critical lessons learnt from the pandemic is the need for diversification of markets as well as crops. Tied to these are the need to take production beyond the primary stage by adding value to crops which will allow for their long-term storage, and which will stand the sector in good stead, especially during such times of disaster.

Chief Executive Officer of United Way of Jamaica Winsome Wilkins noted that the pandemic has underscored the need for us to be able to feed ourselves.

“Food security is very important; when everything else flounders, this agriculture sector must grow,” she challenged the JAS. “A vibrant agriculture sector is critical to our nation’s growth and development, especially during this pandemic.”

Wilkins encouraged all Jamaicans to remain resilient and focused despite the odds. She explained that some of the money for the project had come from international partners through United Way Worldwide, with contributions from Citibank and 3M.