Farmers in Bull Savannah and Southfield in the parish of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, are reaping the benefits of investment in irrigation and training in farm methodologies.
St. Elizabeth is one of the driest regions in Jamaica and climate change is exacerbating the situation, hitting the parish with protracted droughts. The farmers, mainly small landholders; produce, among other crops, cantaloupe and honeydew melon, two crops that need a lot of water, but are renowned for the quality. The produce is sold to higglers and the nation-wide purveyor A.L. Golaub and Sons that are supplying hotels. Not to lose the harvest at times of a drought, the farmers needed to buy water at high prices. However, buying water did not save the whole harvest. As the farmers had only relatively small water containers, they lost a significant amount of the produce.
President of the Bull Savannah farmers’ group, Tracey Powell, recounts that periods of drought recorded in 2019 was among the worst she has experienced, but the drip irrigation system, installed in the first half of 2019, while applying fertigation – using fertiliser with irrigation – made the difference. “Thanks to the system, we were able to reap a successful crop,” says Powell.
Due to the system, farming became less manual and can be administered with just the turn of a valve for 300 farmers in both communities that received drip irrigation systems on their farming land. In addition to the new infrastructure, training in farming know-how was the transformational moment for the participants.
“Back in the day, we were just farmers. But we are now businessmen and women,” Powell declares.
In neighbouring Southfield, farmers also experienced extreme drought in 2019 – five months long. The new system in place saved the harvest. Fay Mulgrave, President of the Southfield farmers group where three of four members are women, highlights that the new system has significantly transformed their activities from being predominantly manual, and is helping with time management. Many women in the group are the breadwinners for their families, and have second jobs. As such, they rely on farming to help to feed their dependents.
“We see that women are taking the lead and a lot of women are the breadwinners for their families. It sets a new dynamic in motion to better the livelihoods of families. When families are lifted out of poverty, this has ripple effects to their communities as a whole and beyond. For example, higglers and drivers are also making more business,” says Deidre Clarendon, Chief of the Social Sector Division at the Caribbean Development Bank, which funded the project with some US$415,000 from the Bank’s Basic Needs Trust Fund.
Best practices were an essential part of the programme. “We have a responsibility to put into use the practices taught to us,” Powell says and adds, “as we know, we supply produce from the farm, straight to the table, and what we do here in the farm today, might end up on your table tomorrow.”
The farmers say they now have a better understanding for the various chemicals and their use, hence they have been able to be more efficient in making purchases and application of the formulations.
Additionally, prior to the project, they were not keeping a record of expenditures. With the farm management books received through the project, the farmers are now recording and keeping account of what is spent, as well as their yield and profits.
Coordinated by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority and Jamaica Social Investment Fund, which was also executing the overall project, the training touched upon many needed skills of farmers – from farm and crop management, spray calibration, and integrated pest management over land preparation and food handling to financial management and record keeping.
In Bull Savannah, “150 farmers are smiling today because of the funding of this project; and we would love for other persons to benefit from this project,” Powell says.
Meanwhile, the project beneficiaries have formed a charity group, the Bull Savannah Benevolent Society. “Our first initiative undertaken when we started was to have a Christmas treat for the community, where we tried to give everyone a gift from the Benevolent Society,” Powell informs.
The Society continued their work by having a back-to-school treat, which saw over 200 children receiving supplies. Additionally, the farmers have sought to educate other farmers who did not benefit from the training. “We are happy for this opportunity to uplift ourselves, which will help us to uplift our community, and eventually the world,” Powell says, adding “since the CDB [came in] our lives have improved.”