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AIC helping to modernise agriculture, boost yields

Thursday, March 20, 2014    

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THE Agro Investment Corporation (AIC) has been living up to its mandate to modernise the country's agricultural and agribusiness base, boost employment in the sector and lay the groundwork for improved productivity for export and import substitution or replacement of a select range of crops.

The programme, said the agriculture ministry, is also advancing the use of scientific animal husbandry for processing meats and increasing inland fisheries.

Jamaican agriculture has perennially been dogged by low productivity as small farmers who make up the bulk of the country's agricultural producers, eke out a minimal existence on small individual plots of land. These small plots cannot facilitate large-scale production as their location on marginal lands on rocky hillsides and other sites poorly suited to farming has militated against the use of modern inputs such as irrigation and ploughing by tractors — all features of highly productive agriculture — as well as the low economies of scale (returns per acre) from subsistence farming, among other disincentives.

Historically, the best lands on the plains have for centuries been restricted to crops such as sugar cane at the expense of other crops which could also help to grow the economy both by earning precious foreign exchange and substituting expensive inputs in animal feeds like corn through crops such as sorghum.

The AIC said it has been addressing these shortfalls by focusing on making land available to groups of small farmers as well as larger investors and facilitating access to modern inputs in some instances. While some of the projects implemented so far have been pilot programmes with attendant teething pains, the agency has reported overall success in its endeavours with some acres under production and employment of 1,046 persons. Overall, the Agro Park Programme is expected to save Jamaica more than $5 billion annually, while providing employment for 5,156 people.

According to Roger Clarke, the minister for agriculture and fisheries, creative and collaborative means are being employed to ensure the smooth implementation of the Agro Park Programme, adding that they are expected to to play a critical role in Jamaica's economic recovery process.

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