Saturday 14 December, 2019

Holland Agro-Economic Zone to earn $1.26 billion in 2019

Loop file photo.

Loop file photo.

The country’s first agro-economic zone at Holland in St. Elizabeth is expected to generate some one million kilogrammes of produce in 2019 at a value of $1.26 billion.

This, according to JC Hutchinson, the Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries. He made the announcement recently during his contribution to the 2019/2020 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives.

The volume of produce and the more than $1 billion return will be realised by 224 farmers who have been allocated various size plots of between 5 and 10 acres on the 2,400-acre property that was previously under the control of Appleton Estate and which was used for sugarcane cultivation.

“It is now being further divided to assist those who would like to lease less than five acres. Persons have been allotted as little as a one-acre plot,” Hutchinson revealed.

The minister said those allocated plots are from various backgrounds.

“The persons who have leased the land come from all walks of life. You have established farmers (many from South St Elizabeth), agriculturists, teachers, lecturers, security officers, businessmen and women, the St Elizabeth Dairy Corporation, the Brighton River Cooperative who will be specialising in cassava, cattle ranchers, etc,” said Hutchinson.

He noted that all farmers will be financing their own enterprise and said a foreign investor will be establishing demonstration plots to expose the farmers to modern techniques in the production of cash crops.

Hutchinson explained that produce from the production zones and agro-parks will be channelled into the agro-economic zone.

He also told the House that 30 acres of land have been reserved for the youth and 25 acres reserved for women. Hutchinson described this grouping as being budding entrepreneurs who do not have the capital to establish their own activity.

He said they will be facilitated through the Agricultural Push Start Programme, where they are provided with all the inputs up front and the cost taken out at the point of sale by the company in charge of the project. That company is called OUTAONE.

Meanwhile, with the Holland Agro-Economic Zone about to go into full production, Hutchinson said several crops were imported into the country last year, which can be grown locally.

These include cantaloupe, 146,000 kg; honeydew melon, 130,000 kg; broccoli, 170,000 kg; squash, 9,000 kg; zucchini, 55,000 kg; cauliflower, 51,000 kg; carrots, 66,000 kg; lettuce, 43,000 kg; tomato, 19,000 kg; hot pepper, 3,000 kg; cucumber, 1,000 kg and pumpkin, 148,000 kg.

Hutchinson said the farmers intend to advise his ministry to cease the importation of these crops as they intend to supply the local market, including the hotels, with the amount currently imported, from the Holland property.

And he said there are other crops, the importation of which the farmers intend to reduce. These include garlic, red peas, gungo peas, Irish potato, onions, sweet pepper and pineapple.

To ensure that the produce is sold, there will also be an online marketing platform to link farmers directly with hotels and exporters.

Hutchinson also disclosed that the Airports Authority of Jamaica is planning to expand the existing airstrip by taking in a total of 480 acres to facilitate cargo planes. He said the plan is to create a local hub for the export of fresh and processed produce.

“We are also exploring the possibility for domestic flights to bring passengers to the various tourist attractions in the parish such as YS Falls, Appleton Rum Tour, Lovers Leap and Bamboo Avenue, which is right there next to the agro-economic zone and also to Sandals and other hotels.

“The farm itself would also be an agro-tourism attraction. Educational tours are also being proposed for the property,” Hutchinson said.

The farmers are divided into six groups and each group is registered separately with the Rural Agricultural and Development Authority.

Hutchinson said this will allow farmers access to grant funding from donor agencies. He said a catastrophe fund programme is being worked out to assist the farmers on the property in times of need.

“The Holland Agro-Economic Zone project is slated to be the largest agricultural project established in Jamaica, which involves so many farmers establishing such a large acreage of land at any one time,” Hutchinson stated.

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