Westmoreland ganja farmers welcome pilot but...Monday, January 21, 2019
BY HORACE HINES
ORANGE HILL, Westmoreland — One of the nation's leading ganja advocates, Ras Iyah V, has welcomed Prime Minister Andrew Holness' announcement that the pilot project for the Alternative Development Programme (ADP), which will provide an avenue for small farmers to benefit from the ganja industry, is scheduled to start by March this year.
But with less than two months to go, and what he says has been no word from the government, Iyah V said stakeholders are concerned that the pilot projects slated for Accompong, St Elizabeth and Orange Hill in Westmoreland will not be executed in a timely manner.
The 1998 Action Plan adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, provides for the inclusion of a programme, such as the ADP, through specifically designed rural development measures consistent with sustained national economic growth. The programme, which aims to prevent and eliminate the illicit cultivation of ganja and channel the process through legal streams, will be administered by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries with oversight from the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority.
Among the stipulations are the tagging of plants under a track and trace mechanism; sale of products through licensed processors; farmers' alignment to community-based associations/organisations; accommodation of special groups such as the Maroons and Rastafarians; and that cultivations not exceed half-an-acre per farmer.
In an exclusive interview with the Jamaica Observer on the weekend, Ras Iyah V, who is head of the Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers' Association, said that representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture are yet to meet with any of the Orange Hill ganja farmers ahead of the announced start of the pilot projects.
“We give thanks for the announcement that the two pilot projects, Orange Hill and Accompong, will get off the ground during the first quarter of the year, but we need to face the reality of what it is going to take in order for that to take place. And speaking from an Orange Hill point of view, so far none of these people in official position where the programme is concerned, have sat and spoken with us in terms of how it is going to be approached,” he said.
Ras Iyah V, who is also a member of the CLA board, also raised concerns about how the programme will be funded.
“We (Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers' Association) have not gotten the go-ahead to (seek) our own funding. We have not been informed to the point that, yes, the Government will fund the 10-acre project; and the fact that it is going to take time to fence, time to prepare, then we feel that it is overdue that people meet with the Government that is responsible for implementing the programme to sit and talk with the Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers' Association, seeing that it is with that association that the programme will be implemented,” Ras Iyah V argued.
“So there needs to be a dialogue and that dialogue is not going on.”
Ras Iyah V pointed out that the two projects were approved in Cabinet two years ago.
“We also want to remind that the 9th of January gone was fully two years since these projects were approved by the Cabinet. So if it took two years for the pilot project to be implemented — which they have not been implemented yet and we still don't know how much longer it is going to take, even though the prime minister say, yes, it is going to be implemented in the first quarter this year — how long will the programme itself take to be implemented on a national basis?” he questioned.
In addition, Ras Iyah V questioned whether the Government would be willing to allow the various associations in the different parishes permission to raise their own funds to implement the project.
“The Government is claiming that they don't have the funds to fund these projects. So if they don't have the funds to fund these pilot projects and it has taken them so long for these pilot projects to get off the ground, how will the Government allow the other parishes that have grassroots associations for their projects to get off the ground? Is the Government prepared to allow these associations to go and get their own funding or to partner with entities, whether local or international? These are some concerns that we have,” Ras Iyah V said.