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Monday, May 22, 2006 



Mission of the Month: Jamaica

Jervis Rowe is one of the Jamaican farmers
benefiting from the island’s first
11 greenhouses built with U.S. assistance.

Kimberly Flowers, USAID/Jamaica

Situated in the heart of the hurricane zone in the Caribbean, Jamaica is vulnerable to natural disasters. Just two years ago Hurricane Ivan pounded the south coast of Jamaica with heavy rains and strong winds, leaving behind $580 million in damages.

Out of Jamaica’s 1.2 million labor force, 20 percent are in the agriculture sector. Many farmers, especially those in the southern part of the island, lost all their crops and equipment during the hurricane. Significant losses were recorded in domestic production of fruits and vegetables.

Saddled with much external and domestic debt as well as high unemployment, Jamaica was unable to cope with the additional challenges of hurricane recovery, including providing support to its farmers.

Innovative Response
USAID quickly responded to the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan with a one-year, $18 million recovery program that emphasized “building back better.” Working with the Jamaican government, houses, schools, community centers, and businesses were rebuilt using construction techniques that make buildings more resistant to storms.

One effort under the program provided technical assistance, training, grants, and new technology to restore businesses affected by the storm to pre-hurricane production levels or better. It also erected 11 greenhouses—the first ever of their type constructed in Jamaica—at demonstration farms across the island to jumpstart fruit and vegetable production and provide better crop protection.
Up to 1,500 better quality plants can be grown in a greenhouse of 600 square meters, averaging gross sales of $13,000 for a single crop.

The field demonstration farms are also serving as training sites to illustrate to other nearby farmers the advantages of greenhouse technology in producing high-value crops. The growers are required to contribute to the cost of land preparation, as well as labor for building the greenhouses and for plant support systems.

While greenhouse production costs more in the beginning, it has minimal costs for controlling weeds and pests and provides higher yields per acre than crops planted in an open field.

The $7,500 greenhouses are made of lumber, with plastic roofing and antiviral netting on the sides. The plastic roof reflects ultraviolet rays, increasing the metabolic efficiency of the plants, and channels infrared rays out of the greenhouse. The antiviral netting reduces problems with pests, viruses, and diseases.

The greenhouses also use drip-irrigation systems, which reduce water use by 40 percent or more and provide improved, more-efficient fertilization of crops and easier pest and disease management.

Jervis Rowe from Manchester, Jamaica, one of the farmers benefiting from the greenhouse technology, is harvesting an increased crop of tomatoes, healthier than ever before.

“Growing in the greenhouse produces healthier products, and the use of chemicals is almost negligible. I can now provide vine-ripe tomatoes to the consumer that have a better flavor and appearance. The fruit is reaped fully mature, so it goes from farm directly to the consumer,” Rowe said.

His first greenhouse crop is expected to be 15,000 pounds. He anticipates getting about 10 pounds of fruit from each plant—a yield significantly higher than tomatoes grown in the open field, where the average yield is 3 or 4 pounds per plant.

“The greenhouses are giving some growers production yields nearly four times greater than open field production,” said Vicki Johnson, director of the Office of Economic Growth for USAID/Jamaica.

Other farmers involved in the project are following Rowe’s example, reaping and marketing crops of tomatoes, sweet peppers, and lettuce of superior size, color, and shape, and taking advantage of high-end marketing opportunities in special markets, such as supermarkets, hotels, and catering companies.

Many new farmers are now requesting help in starting greenhouse operations, while some of the current farmers in the program have already begun investing in their second greenhouse. The greenhouse growers have also formed a marketing alliance.

Private partnerships that formed as part of the program are expected to continue. For example, an entire new market opened for the local company, Jamaica Drip, and farmers are continuing to use and promote the drip irrigation system technology.

USAID anticipates continuing similar work in future economic growth and environmental projects to reach more farmers across the island as funding is available.

FrontLines, USAID

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