A young farmer’s desire to speak with Audley Shaw

Okeito Thompson wants to sit down with Minister of Agriculture Audley Shaw to speak about the future of young people and increased production in the sector.

“I am speaking on behalf of a lot of young farmers and other young people who want to get in agriculture,” Thompson, a farmer of Coley Mountain in Manchester and the recipient of the 2019 Prime Minister’s Award for Agriculture, told the Jamaica Observer. “Firstly, we are having challenges accessing land; most youth do not have collateral to access capital from banks,” he argued.

The 28-year-old farmer said that given the situation of the island’s high import food bill — in excess of US$750 million per year — and the current COVID-19 pandemic, urgent intervention from the minister, especially for young farmers, was critical. Thompson charged that there were many youngsters who wanted to get into farming but the industry was not structured to accommodate them.

“Under your ministry you can identify land specifically for young people wanting to go into agriculture and also approach banks so that we can have easier access to funding,” Thompson said in his call on the agriculture minister to act.

“These are some of the challenges we are facing that is slowing down the growth of the sector. We are crying out for an agriculture fund,” said Thompson who, along with the Prime Minister’s Award for Agriculture, was also Nutramix Ambassador in 2019.

He argued that agriculture, although typically seen as an occupation for older people, even with its problems, was proving a viable enterprise for younger Jamaicans.

“Indeed farming is what I am living off now,” said the past student of Coley Mountain Primary and Mile Gully High school in his native Manchester.

“I just have to keep focused and be innovative in this changing world,” he added.

“I think the [COVID-19] crisis has placed a lot of emphasis on farming. Farmers should get more recognition and assistance so that we can produce and maximise our full potential in spite of limited resources and perennial drought conditions.”

The Nutramix Ambassador rears cattle as well as plants Irish and sweet potatoes, sweet peppers and pumpkin.

“These crops do well in our type of soil and there is ready market for the produce,” he said.

Thompson argued that with the COVID-19 crisis now was the time to make changes in the approach to agriculture.

The distribution problem faced by farmers with the recent shutdown of activity in the tourism sector due to coronavirus restrictions is another situation forcing the need for a talk with the agriculture minister. Many farmers in neighbouring St Elizabeth have found it difficult offloading produce and have had to discard items as the hotels ceased buying.

“I do not have a problem getting rid of my produce because I sell mostly to higglers,” Thompson said.

He, however, added that there was a pressuring need for the Government to invest in food storage facilities across the island and for the private sector to get more involved in agro processing.

“If you look at the labels on packaged food products, everything comes from overseas,” he charged.

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