A St. Mary Farmer’s Dream: Modernising And Transforming Agriculture In Jamaica Is Possible!

The parish of St. Mary in Jamaica is well recognised for an agriculturally based economy.

Over the decades prominent crops included bananas, coconuts, sugarcane, pineapple, pimento (Myrtaceae) , cocoa beans, cassava, breadfruit, mangoes, ackee, avocado (Jamaican pear), and the Jamaican Otaheite apple (Syzgium malaccense).

Some cultivated root and tuber crops were yam, cassava, sweet potatoes, carrots, and coco (Dasheen). Well represented among the cash crops are red peas, thyme, callaloo, gungo peas, lettuce, tomatoes, lime, guava, star apple, papaya, soursop, sweetsop, tamarind, June plum, rose apple, and stinking toe (Hymenaea courbaril). Multiple other crops were also grown in smaller amounts.

Unrewarding, unforgiving, and extremely hard work:

  

Synonymous with this backbreaking occupation among the parish’s farmers has been a very high degree of poverty. Unfortunately, this poverty has not escaped succeeding generations, persisting to the present despite the farmers’ best efforts. Few young people now see this unrewarding and demanding undertaking as an avenue for economic or social advancement.

The number of farmers, farms and agricultural output has experienced an irrevocable decline over the decades. The parish continues to descend inexorably deeper and deeper into poverty. Decayed houses, unkempt lawns, pothole strewn roads, and unemployed youth abound. The shattered dreams of promising young people are commonplace. Unplanned pregnancies among single, under-educated, teenage girls are unsurprisingly frequent. Hopelessness is rampant.

An improbable St Mary’s farmers dream:

Older farmers fervently believed that increasing the amount of their produce would allow them and their families to escape poverty, acquire modern equipment and make their lives and farming easier. Others blindly answered the call of agricultural societies and Minsters of agriculture to venture into newer crops. They anticipated the promised market for these crops would be realised and thus enhance their earning potential.

These farmers’ sincere, almost blind, faith was repeatedly met with heartbreak as there were never markets as promised. The Ministers of agriculture and heads of agricultural society moved on. They were totally unconcerned, oblivious about the lives devastated because of their empty, near callous promises. One such, now deceased farmer, invested in planting acres of cassava with abundant yield. The promised market, and new St. Elizabeth cassava processing factory was never a reality in his lifetime. He died a broken, disheartened, poor, man with nothing to leave his family, except a gushing stream of endless despair.

A new St. Mary farmer’s dream may still emerge:

What if a new College of Agriculture were built in St. Mary to help advance and revolutionise the practice of farming, and included the processing of all farm produce? Farmers could now have access to reliable, readily available expertise, cutting-edge farming techniques, and ongoing support. Consider the relief if dependable markets that would reliably absorb and process all the farm produce at consistently reasonable prices were the norm!

  

Innovative school curricula and future development:

On day one every student entering this new Agricultural College would be required to embrace one farm produce. The student would be tasked with developing, by the end of the four-year course, a new marketable item from that farm produce. Or fashion a new cuisine from that food item, ready for market. Considerations could include new fruit drinks, food flavourings, spices, sauces, drink additives, chutney, or food chips.  Other potential options are pickles, peaches, jams, nectars, pulp, paste, and food fragrances.

These limited options could be expanded based on student preference or interest, and as the school becomes more established and its technology and processes become more advanced and refined. Canning of certain items could be perfected so no crop would go to waste.

Ways to preserve food items having now been enhanced would ensure food flavours are not lost over time and food safety and public health standards are consistently maintained until the produce, or food derivative is ready for market.  Collaboration with international experts in food science and technology would likely mushroom becoming commonplace. The accompanying rise in food science research would most likely be exponential.

Impact on student economic welfare, industrial development, and manufacturing in Jamaica:

Each student successful in generating a viable marketable new food derivative, by-product, technique, or process would be rewarded. The rights to each new discovery could be sold by the student developer to corporations wanting to mass produce the item. Joint ventures created to develop new companies and enter production is another possibility.  The government could own the rights to these new innovations and auction them to the highest bidder.

A requirement of each successful bidder would be the initial production in Jamaica of this innovative food byproduct for a least five, or some other specified number of years. Having satisfied that initial Jamaica-made mandate the manufacturing process could then take place wherever the company desired. An immutable expectation would be the reinvestment of a specified percentage of the income generated from these sales in the new College of Agriculture. Such investment would ensure the College’s continued success using cutting edge research and technology in the areas of food science and agriculture.

Business Management, marketing, and sales:

Other mandatory student course requirements would include training in marketing, how to operate a business, financial management, and the use of new farm machinery/technology.  Being proficient in the essentials regarding soil types, how to maximise anticipated crop yield by optimising soil preparation (acidity/alkalinity and mineral content), and drip irrigation would also be required prior to graduation.

  

Ways to minimise praedial larceny as the society works to limit farm theft should be explored. Each graduate would thus be well equipped to enter the world of work as a valued employee or as an independent business owner. Provision of small business financing to these nascent entrepreneurs should be prioritised by lending agencies and government initiatives.

St Mary is the ideal location for this new opportunity:

Many factors favour St. Mary as the ideal location for this new agricultural school with the associated food processing ventures.  There is expansive, idle, arable, highly fertile agricultural land.  Politicians of both political parties over recent decades have not meaningfully impacted development in the parish, and so failed to improve the lot of the residents of the parish. 

Significant economic development should result in improvement of the roads, schools, expansion of the internet and phone network, and reliable delivery of water and electricity.  The many hotels that are close by in San Souci, Oracabessa, Boscobel, Tower Isles, Ocho Rios, and in the adjoining parishes of St. Ann and Portland could access the reliable, abundant, and a wide assortment of food supply for the tourism sector.  Ordinary Jamaicans should also be able to access these farm produce now available for sale.

Food processing and other equipment would increase exposure for other students who visit the new College:

Mass spectrometers and other modern diagnostic equipment essential to determining the contained minerals and biologic components of foods would be mandatory in this new College.  The new equipment would allow for successful accomplishment of the objectives outlined above. 

Students from elementary and high schools would have an opportunity to be exposed to advanced scientific and farming equipment.  The potential for farmers to be made aware of and have access to the new farming equipment could make it easier for them to continue successfully and effortlessly working on their individual small farms.  If canning facilities are installed locally, regional farmers could supply the raw materials.

A vibrant, new St. Mary

A transformed St. Mary would quickly become home to and support many more residents, all enjoying a much higher standard of living.  Many people who work in Kingston likely would move to and live in St. Mary, driving the short distance to work made easier because of the major recent Junction Road improvements. Envision the new expensive homes and buildings with pristine, well-manicured lawns.  

Imagine reading in highly acclaimed international and national cuisine magazines about the extraordinary contribution and advances Jamaica is making in food science, farming technology and gastronomy. Visualise the happy faces of the finally, fully satisfied residents of St. Mary. What a grand new beginning and exciting new reality.  A time now filled with hope and boundless possibilities! Yes St. Mary may finally arrive and claim her desired and rightful place in a resurgent, vibrant Jamaica.

  

Leon Wright- Guest author

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