A NEW ERA

The National Farm Road Rehabilitation Program is essential for enabling local farmers to strengthen the sector and the community.

Representing 16.7% of the economy, Jamaica's agriculture sector is described, in the Medium Term Socio-Economic Policy Framework 2015-2018 and the National Development Plan, as a transforming sector that is in need of increasing production and reducing costs, ultimately serving to revitalize rural communities and create strong linkages with the overall economy.

According to the National Development Plan, agriculture has experienced numerous challenges that have resulted in an overall decline in output and direct contribution to GDP. Additionally, the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), in its Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica, mentioned that the sector contracted by 4% mainly due to adverse weather conditions in recent years. This was shown by the Agriculture Production Index (API), whereby the gross output declined for some sub-industries such as certain crops and post-harvest activities.

Nonetheless, the policies and programs pursued by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries (MICAF) employed a number of strategies to enhance growth in agriculture and improve efficiency by combining PPPs to improve productivity, quality, and competitiveness. The National Farm Road Rehabilitation Program is one of five initiatives that seek to achieve this expected development by providing an estimated 20,000 farmers island-wide with direct access to markets, information, equipment, facilities, tools, livestock, planting materials, and training on climate change to the benefit of farmers and communities.

In 2018, according to the Jamaica Information Service (JIS), the government has planned to, through the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), repair farm roads across the country. The program represents a collaboration within the government between MICAF and the Ministry of Finance and Planning, allocating approximately JMD500 million from the 2017 budget and JMD800 million from 2018 budget. Expectations for 2019 equate to a 3% increase in production, as well boosting employment in agriculture and attracting entrepreneurs to the sector.

As mentioned by PIOJ, the project is expected to rehabilitate over time some 420km of rural roads across 98 extension areas in 13 parishes outside of the capital of Kingston. The goal is to reach an estimated 11,506 farmers with roads that guarantee direct access to markets while developing the social environment through rehabilitation and maintenance. According to JIS, this includes: rainwater ponds, procurement and delivery of additional water tanks, agricultural and farming supplies, rehabilitation of greenhouses, and training in good land-use practices.

JIS has mentioned as well that, by 2018, almost 19km of farm roads are to be repaired, costing JMD81 million. This includes 12km along Brandon Hill, Chudleigh Path, St. Toolies, Reckford, and Alvie roads in Manchester at a cost of JMD47 million and 6.7km in St. Elizabeth, particularly Delightful, Thatchwalk, Phantiland, Spring Park, and Hodges, at a cost of JMD34 million. Already in 2018, 1,400m of farm roads in South Manchester have been repaired by RADA at a cost of JMD12 million. MICAF has stated that, of the 60 farm roads due for repairs last financial year, some 52 have been completed.
Beyond increasing agricultural production, the National Farm Road Rehabilitation Program reduces gaps in key infrastructure, addresses informality, strengthens agricultural research institutions, diversifies production, and augments the development of modern and efficient farming systems. The government's commitment is showcased through its community outreach efforts, spreading the following slogan of self-sufficiency throughout communities: “grow what we eat, eat what we grow." Jamaicans can expect to hear more about this program and agricultural self-sufficiency through church services, health fairs, training sessions, and agriculture expos and award ceremony. Products key to decreasing food import dependency include yams, honey, onions, pineapple, and goat and sheep meat.

Taking Jamaican products from the roads to the seas, increased road networks can, in due course, help Jamaica capitalize on agriculture export opportunities. Blue Mountain coffee has established an international recognition and demand, and other grown-in-Jamaica products could soon follow.