THE earnings of small-scale rural farmers in St Thomas are expected to be boosted under a US$479,000 ($48 million) pilot project.
Dubbed the Extending Financial Services Directly to Rural Jamaican Farmers (Direct2Client) Project, the initiative is being implemented by the St Thomas Cooperative Credit Union through funding by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
Under the programme, farmers will gain increased access to financial services as a result of a new financing model which is to be developed.
Officially launched in April this year, the project was publicly rolled out during a ceremony held at the Whispering Bamboo Cove in Morant Bay, in the parish
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in welcoming the initiative noted that it is "a significant step in providing financial and other services to rural farmers".
In her speech, delivered by Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Roger Clarke, Simpson Miller commended the credit union for providing assistance where it is needed.
"Your project comes at a time when there is a great need to uplift the farming communities of the parish... thank you for believing in our farmers,"
The prime minister said the country appreciates the efforts of thousands of small farmers who continue to produce in spite of challenges such as disease, drought and flooding, which are difficult
"Our small farmers continue to be the backbone of the agricultural sector of this country and today I salute them for their contribution," she said.
Simpson Miller further contended that there is room for improvement and expansion of farming in Jamaica, noting that revitalising agriculture is high on the list of priorities for the administration, with a number of programmes already in place to boost production in banana and sugar as well as the dairy industry.
The project, which is expected to last for 30 months, will be designed and implemented using the most appropriate technologies to ensure operational efficiency and sustainability. It will combine the adaptation of value chain financing with state-of-the-art technologies geared towards enabling greater efficiency in the delivery of these services to remote rural communities.
Meanwhile Minister Clarke also welcomed the initiative, describing it as a "true new beginning" for Jamaica's small farmers.
Member of Parliament for Eastern St Thomas and Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson said he was excited about the possibilities of the project in enhancing the lives of the small farmers of his constituency.
Country Representative of the IDB Therese Turner-Jones said it is intended that the project will be scaled up and rolled out in the Caribbean.
"So St Thomas is going to be a pilot and for that Jamaica should be proud. We would like it to be successful because we would like to replicate it in other parts of the region," she said.