ONE hundred and five cocoa farmers from the parishes of St Mary and Portland recently received tools, valued at $2.5 million, from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The purpose of the donations is to support the rehabilitation and livelihoods diversification initiative being implemented by ACDI/VOCA in partnership with the Government of Jamaica under the Jamaica Rural Economy and Ecosystems Adapting to Climate Change (Ja REEACH) Project.
The two-year project focuses on, among other things, protecting rural lives, livelihoods and ecosystems in targeted Jamaican communities that are affected by climate change, through interventions that drive adaptation and build resilience.
The tools were handed over to the cocoa farmers, who were drawn from seven groups between the two parishes, at a ceremony that was jointly organised with the Rural Agriculture Development Programme (RADA) in Portland on September 13.
Dianne Dormer of ACDI/VOCA, who spoke on behalf of Malden Miller, project management specialist at the USAID, said the provision of the tools to the farmers was seen as important given the reputation of Jamaica's cocoa.
"Efforts to improve the resilience and productivity of the Jamaican cocoa industry will go a far way in boosting Jamaica's overall agriculture sector and food security," she emphasised.
Under the Ja REEACH Project, an additional $3.5 million will be spent to support livelihood diversification opportunities as part of the resiliency building strategy for these farmers, bringing the total value of the support being provided to $6 million.
The environmental impacts of climate change are dire and include an increase in the frequency and intensity of hurricanes, droughts, flooding, environmental degradation, soil erosion, watershed degradation, and deforestation.
The farmers have been trained in how to use the tools to protect their farms from the negative effects of climate change under the Ja REEACH Project's Climate Change Farmer Field School Programme, and with the requisite tools now have an opportunity to practise what they have learnt in the field. For example, they will use pruning tools to reduce the height of trees so that the trees won't be damaged by heavy winds.
Additionally, the farmers are being taught various resilience-building agricultural skills to protect their farms, such as integrated pest management techniques like the use of barrier crops to reduce pest infestation; use of drains in fields where there is tendency for water-pooling or flooding; planting of drought-tolerant crop varieties; use of mulch to retain soil moisture; installation of water harvesting, conservation and irrigation systems to address the changes in water availability; adjusting crop establishment to encourage peak production outside of hurricane or heavy rain periods; plant nutrition techniques to increase plant resilience: and how to plant trees for shade management and to increase carbon sequestration.
As part of Ja REEACH's two-year response to the impacts of climate change, the Climate Change Farmer Field School Programme is working with select cocoa farmers to transfer the skills and best practices needed to rehabilitate the cocoa fields, particularly post natural disaster events such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012. These rehabilitated fields will serve as community-level demonstration plots where other farmers can see and learn the benefits of applying rehabilitation best practices.
Of great significance is that the Ja REEACH Project is also facilitating the creation of alternative livelihoods for the cocoa farmers, so that they will no longer be solely dependent on their cocoa crops for income. Under this alternative livelihoods initiative, the cocoa farmers will also plant other crops such as dasheen, yam and pepper, thereby reducing their dependence on cocoa as a single income source.