JAMAICANS can expect to see more locally grown red peas on the market in the coming months with last week's launch of the Jamaica Agricultural Society's National Red Peas Planting Programme.
Under the programme, 3,000 quarts of peas are being distributed to farmers which is expected to yield 150 acres of the crop within the next year. The distribution of the seeds, which began in July, will end this month.
A peas bank will also be established to deal with shortages, distribution and packaging of the legumes for distributors and end users. Farmers who benefit from the programme are expected to give back five quarts of peas to the bank
At the official launch at the JAS' headquarters in downtown Kingston, junior minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, Ian Hayles, lauded the society for starting the programme.
"There is no secret that importation tops us somewhere in the region of US$930 million. Last year we imported 2.3 million kilogrammes (kgs) totalling $300 million in read peas," he said.
He said the country is currently producing just over 82,000 kgs of the legumes compared to the 4.5 million kgs produced at the height of production in 1994.
The challenge now, Hayles declared, is to get back to the days of such high levels of production. He said the ministry is committed to reviewing the duties and waivers that are offered on red peas and other imported items to ensure that the island's produce remains competitive .
"The more we ramp up production, the more we're going to cut back on the levels of importation," Hayles said.
But, he said while the JAS is working with the farmers to beef up the country's food production to ensure greater food security, it was important for the production and marketing organisations -- made up of community-based organisations -- to work with the JAS instead of working as separate entities.
Meanwhile, JAS president Senator Norman Grant said that the aim of the project is to ensure a steady increase in the production of the crop in a "structured" manner.
"This launch must send two messages: One, we are going for the production levels when we produced 1,669 tonnes in 1999 and two, we are going back for the red peas market and we are going to beat imports," he said.
Grant said the programme is also aimed at producing 1,700 tonnes of red peas by 2020 and over 4,000 tonnes by 2030.
At the same time, he expressed concerns about the quality of red peas imported in the island, citing a batch of peas that had to be destroyed in April because of contamination. Government, he suggested, should impose or increase import duties on red peas and use the funds to support local production.
In addition, Grant called for more research and development to be done on the crop to avoid diseases and to produce new varieties.