OUTSTANDING IN THE FIELD

Jamaica 2019 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

This 124-year old institution supports farmers across the country, whether they be growing traditional products such as sugarcane, or modern crops such as cannabis for the medical cannabis sector.

Lenworth Fulton
BIOGRAPHY
Lenworth Fulton was CEO of the Rutal Agricultural Authority from 2013 to 2016. This followed a 12-year stint as Executive Director of Jamaica 4h Clubs. He operates a farm in Limsden St. Ann and is the President of JAS. He graduated from the Jamaica School of Agriculture and Tuskegee University in the US.

What have been the highlights of JAS?

JAS is 124 years old. From its establishment, it has been the strongest lobbying and advocacy group for farmers of all categories in Jamaica. It is also involved with the promotion of agriculture through shows and festivals to facilitate networking in agriculture. Recently, we re-integrated the coffee and cocoa sectors back together, since they were dismantled after the creation of the Jamaica Agricultural Community Regulatory Authority (JACRA). We also work on developing markets for our farmers and advocate for government expenditures not to bypass rural areas, to ensure domestic water supply and electricity provision there. We also protect tropical breeds of cattle, which are considered the best adapted cattle breeds in the world. Another group of farmers I recently met with is the cannabis group. As small farmers are interested in growing cannabis for medical purposes, we hope to build a cannabis park in St. Ann. We are part of the Tourism Linkage Hub, which brings all sectors together to benefit and deliver the “Jamaican product," whatever it may be, into hotels and restaurants. For Jamaican farmers, it is a large market. The 4.3 million tourist entering Jamaica each year consume three times the amount of food Jamaicans do, and 43% of the “hotel product" is actually food. Currently, Jamaican farmers provide about 10% of this food; if we could double our share to 20-25%, it will pump millions of dollars to rural communities. We are currently transitioning from being a quasi-government entity to a full non-political NGO. This will allow us to speak freely and defend the farmers of this country against government oppression, if it happens. We hope to work with various international bodies to get grants that will lead to getting our farm stores back in operation and do the core purchasing of foodstuffs and spices for redistribution and sale across Jamaica. That is our mission over the next 18 months.

What is the strongest agricultural commodity in terms of exports?

In the past, it was sugarcane and banana, though those have been failing. Today, Blue Mountain coffee is making tremendous progress as a 300-year-old brand. Over the past 12 months we have experienced trouble maintaining our markets due to foreign competition. We are not doing enough from the government side to protect the Blue Mountain brand. Also, among the six finest rums around the world, two are from Jamaica. Those are White Overproof Rum and Appleton Special, both of which are made from sugarcane. We also want to rebuild the mango industry. If we do irradiation, which is a chemical type of operation that kills the fruit flies we are afraid of, our mangoes will be readily accessed by the US market. Now the market is opening up for cannabis, and it has great export potential.

How can Jamaican products compete with imports from abroad?

There is competition from abroad because our farms are not fully mechanized. Mechanizations must be followed by technological advancement. Also, some of our farms are too small, and it is not economical to advance them or drive them with technology. We want to open up larger land areas of more than 50 acres so we could then pay a manager to maintain farm vehicles and computer programs for laying out irrigation systems, and pay for the technology for them. Our smaller farmers could join groups such as co-ops to produce together.