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Planned irrigation scheme in Essex Valley a boon for farmers

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Planned irrigation scheme in Essex Valley a boon for farmers

BY ALICIA SUTHERLAND
Observer staff reporter
sutherlanda@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, January 28, 2019

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LITITZ, St Elizabeth — A seasoned farmer, Margaret Webster is accustomed to the vagaries of agriculture, not the least of which is debilitating droughts.

She was among residents who gathered recently as Government officials, including Prime Minister Andrew Holness, international partners and members of Jamaica’s private sector arrived for a ground-breaking ceremony to formally begin work on an irrigation scheme under the Essex Valley Agriculture Development Project

Webster said she and her neighbours had been hearing for a long time about the planned drilling of wells to enable irrigation systems aimed at easing their water challenges. She always had hope that the plans would be realised. For her and others, the ground-breaking was confirmation their hopes were not in vain.

An overview prepared by organisers of the ground-breaking ceremony said the irrigation project on the border of south Manchester and south east St Elizabeth will enhance the productivity of farmers in a “socially inclusive, gender equitable and climate-sensitive” manner.

Reinforcing the point about gender equity, Aubyn Hill, who is a son of St Elizabeth, Government senator, chairman of the National Irrigation Commission and executive director of the Economic Growth Council, said it meant that women farmers will not be left out. He observed that within the project area women are at the forefront of agriculture.

“All those fancy words mean is that women must get equal and plenty work in and from the Essex Valley Project. I can confidently assure them (UK funder and Caribbean Development Bank that will be responsible for disbursing fund) that they need not worry because many, not a few, of the best farmers in Essex Valley region are already women,” he said.

In addition to Lititz, some of the other communities in the Essex Valley Agriculture Project area include Farm, Comma Pen, Downs, New Forest, Duff House and Sea Air.

The project, which is said to represent one of the largest investments in irrigation infrastructure in Jamaica, is expected to positively impact the livelihoods of over 700 farmers on 718 hectares of land, through the provision of irrigation.

It’s being funded at a cost of £35. 5 million by the United Kingdom Caribbean Infrastructure Partnership Fund, through the Caribbean Development Bank.

Audley Shaw, minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries, lauded St Elizabeth and South Manchester farmers for being resilient despite the odds.

There was too much idle land and far too many idle hands across Jamaica and efforts were being made to change that situation, Shaw said.

Holness commended the farmers for maintaining a level of independence through agriculture, even at times when jobs were not provided through the “formal economy.”

He described agriculture as big business. It should not be looked at as just a manual and domestic endeavour, he said, revealing that he, too, harbours ambitions of being a farmer.

“As I stand here today, I am not afraid to tell you that I want to go into farming,” he said at the launch ceremony.

Holness and Shaw told their audience that among their responsibilities as youngsters was to assist their parents in farming, including the rearing of livestock.

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