Eastern St Thomas farmers seek fortune in cassava
MUCH like their onion-producing counterparts in the western end of the parish, farmers in eastern St Thomas are looking to make record-breaking strides in the cultivation of cassava.
Nigel Levy, who has a plot in the Plantain Garden River Agro-Park, said the farmers there have turned to cassava as a steady crop that can survive the vagaries of weather and it is proving to be quite rewarding economically.
“Over the years, we always struggle at Christmastime. I used to just centralise my operations around pepper, pumpkin, onions, and for years I struggled; every Christmas I was broke,” he pointed out.
“I [decided] then to plant some cassava, as it will weather the storm. It is affected [by the weather] but not much. You may lose some, like 10 per cent based on water and some will rot, but you can be sure of it. So we try to implore fellow farmers around us [to plant] based on our experience,” Levy added.
Having found fortune in cassava, which is a shrubby root vegetable, the roughly 40 farmers who operate at the 200-acre Plantain Garden River Agro-Park want to form an association, and acquire former sugar lands to increase acreages of the crop under cultivation.
During the recent Christmas season, more than 50 acres of the crops were being reaped in the area.
For 2024, the farmers are eyeing between 200 and 300 acres of cassava in production within the Plantain Garden River plate. The aim is to create an industry for the crop in St Thomas eastern, similar to the eastern communities like Yallahs, which are blazing a trail in onion production.
“Yallahs, right now, is the main producer for onions in the Caribbean, so what we are establishing now is…we are looking at crops that we think can do well, and that’s why we are encouraging and building a cassava industry because we know the crop can do well out here,” Levy said.
Currently, the cassava farmers in eastern St Thomas supply large and small exporters with the crop, the bulk of which is used to make chips or bammy.
Some of their buyers include Rainforest Caribbean and Twickenham Industries.
Extension officer at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) Shantel Halliday said the State agency is fully supportive of the ambitions of the farmers and is helping to drive plans to make cassava king in St Thomas eastern.
She added that the RADA team is also linking the farmers to more buyers while making an appeal for additional people to come on board and “facilitate us in terms of more marketing”.
Halliday pointed out that there has been some delay in land preparation due to adverse weather late last year. Before these conditions buyers were taking up to 30,000 pounds of cassava daily.
She said once the weather improves, farmers can continue to look to a not-too-distant future of a lucrative and powerful cassava industry.