Witter: Youth involvement key to maximising full potential of agricultural sector
State Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Franklyn Witter, says the only way to realise the full potential of the agricultural sector is by getting young farmers involved.
Witter was speaking on Tuesday during the ceremony for the handover of leases to youth farmers at the Ebony Park HEART Academy in Toll Gate, Clarendon.
The handover is a partnership between the Agro-Investment Corporation and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
Seventeen youth farmers received official documentation for leases at the event. Up to Tuesday, 50 Jamaican youth farmers had received leases, disclosed Pearnel Charles Jr, the minister of agriculture and fisheries.
Charles pledged support to combat praedial larceny and implored them not to be deterred by the woes that may befall the sector.
Thirty-year-old Dalkeith McDonald was among the 17 youth farmers. McDonald told The Gleaner that he developed a knack for farming at the age of 10, following a science project in primary school.
Fascinated by the results, McDonald decided that farming was something he would venture into full time. McDonald said: “I developed a love for farming at the tender age of 10. In primary school, we were given the task to plant peas seedlings in the bottle with newspaper, and over time, the seedling matured, and from there, my interest in agriculture was developed.”
McDonald’s love for agriculture heightened when he started attending the Greater Portmore Primary School in St Catherine, where he was introduced to various farming tools and taught principles and techniques centred around agriculture.
McDonald, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Technology, has been producing watermelons, sweet peppers, and papayas since he was a teen. He told The Gleaner that it was “a good feeling” . He shared that he was dealt a hard blow by thieves, crumbling his watermelon production.
Charles, who cited praedial larceny as one of the greatest threats to the sector, pledged to “revitalise” the farmers’ association and ramp up support aimed at combating praedial larceny.
Among the youth farmers was former Manchester farm queen Sharlene Anderson, who said attanting her lease paved the way for her to start producing her prized crop: dragon fruit. “It’s what most people are going towards now, healthwise, and [there is high] demand for the fruit. It’s an exotic fruit and you don’t have a lot of people growing it, so that’s why I’m venturing into it,” Anderson explained.
Anderson, who has a degree in environmental science, is the 2022 champion female farmer for St Thomas.
Twenty-eight-year-old Abiona Green also expressed excitement having received her lease. Green told The Gleaner that she ventured into farming to source items for her family-run business, Gimmi Likkle Creation, where she currently plants and sells exotic fruits, including lychee.
Mayor of May Pen Winston Maragh said he wouldbe lobbying for the implementation of a backyard farming programme geared at sparking greater interest in agriculture and for Jamaicans to tap more into the idea of “growing what you eat, eat what you grow”. The mayor added there are suitable lands available in Clarendon for farming but cited a challenge finding youth farmers.
Ronald Blake, executive director of Jamaica 4-H Clubs, posited that the work of the organisation has accelerated the involvement of youth in agriculture.
“It’s because of the work of the 4-H clubs over the last eighty-odd years why we have continuously [seen] a lot of young people who don’t only come into this sector because they were sent, [but come] because they have a passion for it.”