JIS – With Jamaica near self-sufficiency in Irish potato production, the country is imparting its knowledge and techniques to other Caribbean countries.
A 26-member delegation from Guyana, St. Lucia, and Dominica recently spent five days in the island, where they observed best practices in land preparation, harvesting, post harvesting; tissue culture techniques; and drip irrigation and water harvesting.
The delegation, comprised of farmers, buyers, technical personnel, among others, also visited farms and demonstration plots, retail outlets, and the St. Elizabeth Cooperative Credit Union, which has tailored loans for farmers in that section of the island.
The study tour was part of the Government of Canada-sponsored Promotion of Regional Opportunities for Fresh Produce Through Enterprises and Linkages (PROPEL) project.
The $2 billion (C$20 million) undertaking is aimed at significantly reducing the Caribbean’s food imports and to link farmers and buyers to local, regional and international markets.
Focus is being placed on enhancing the quantity and quality of the region’s agricultural outputs through provision of technical training for farmers; establishing agricultural demonstration plots; and improving and expanding farm operations.
The project is also providing support for 1,500 young entrepreneurs to either undertake farming or agro-processing businesses, as well as facilitating full participation by women in engagements to fulfil the needs and demands of a wide range of high-value markets.
Jamaica has received support under PROPEL for its National Irish Potato Expansion Programme, aimed at achieving self-reliance in the production of the crop. Funding is provided for plant material, fertiliser and crop care.
PROPEL has also provided assistance in the introduction of new potato varieties and a Clean Seed Programme for the production of disease-free and viable seedlings.
Chief Technical Director in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Dermon Spence, noted that Jamaica has developed expertise in the management, harvesting and distribution of Irish potato and is “willing to share with our Caribbean partners.”
Irish potato production moved from 32 per cent of local consumption in 2008 to 90 per cent in 2014. For the first six months of 2015, 10.4 kilograms of marketable potato was produced, which was 69 per cent of national demand.
Mr. Spence hailed the support provided through the PROPEL programme. “We are looking forward to continuing the work with Canada in building out the sector, and for the region becoming self-sufficient and maintaining the high quality of the produce, Mr. Spence told JIS News.
Research Scientist with the National Research and Extension Services of Guyana, David Fredericks, who spoke to JIS News, said his team was happy for the opportunity to visit Jamaica.
“What we have seen here has changed our perspective on the possibilities in food security, not only in Guyana, but the entire Caribbean,” he said.
Mr. Fredericks told JIS News that Guyana has had three failed trials at mass production of Irish potato. He noted, however, that his team is “going to take all this experience” from Jamaica to successfully undertake large-scale cultivation of the crop in Guyana.
Dr. Crystal Cox, a young farmer from St. Lucia, who is looking to go into Irish potato cultivation, shares that her interest was to determine the viability of the crop.
She said she gained valuable knowledge and best practices in land preparation, planting, and marketing.
Dr. Cox told JIS News that the information obtained was educational and she will be taking the knowledge “back home to share with the other farmers, who are interested in going into Irish potato production.”
“It exposed us, and showed us that it is very possible to take this and be successful at it,” she said.
Business Officer with the National Development Foundation of Dominica, George Scheleyer, also hailed the opportunity provided under the PROPEL project to learn from Jamaica. He said he is now better able to provide financial advice to farmers and investors.
Technical Specialist with the Ministry of Agriculture in St. Lucia, Kemuel Jeanbaptise, told JIS News that his country is intent on reducing the importation of Irish potato.
“PROPEL is helping us to establish it as a crop. We are really happy that this project has come on board…it is building capacity among the technical officers,” he said.
Meanwhile, Regional Coordinator with PROPEL, Alvin Murray, noted that the support from the Canadians is making a “big difference” for farmers, and helping Jamaica to reduce its import of Irish potato. There were no imports of table Irish potato into Jamaica in 2014.
Mr. Murray lauded the partnership with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) in the training of farmers.
Counsellor and Head of the Development Cooperation at the Canadian High Commission, Walter Bernyck, said the investment that Canada is making in the regional agricultural industry is to ensure that small farmers become big producers of quality crops, and also to boost trade between his country and the Caribbean countries, and enable families to have sustainable incomes.
“We need partners in Jamaica, including all the people, who supply the inputs. The better the partners we have here, is the better the results we will get from our investments,” he tells JIS News.
The PROPEL project was approved in March 2012, and is expected to be completed in March 2017.
Countries benefiting are Jamaica, Guyana, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados.