AS the COVID-19 pandemic hits all aspects of daily life, young Manchester farmer Andra Wynter is rueing what he says is the Jamaica Government’s sidestepping of farmers in its offer to assist significant sectors of the economy.
According to 29-year-old Wynter, agriculture, considering its critical role, was not given the required attention by Government in the formulation of assistance as it curtailed social activities to battle the spread of the virus.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling for farmers as we know that we are essential to the survival of our people. Now more than ever we have to eat what we grow and grow what we eat – this was something that our Government endorsed. But on the bitter end, some of us no longer have a market for our produce and for some, we can no longer afford to cover the labour cost,” Wynter lamented.
“The thing that bothers us most is that we were not placed on any programme where the CARE package is concerned; we have to accept the compassionate grant or we are sent to our Members of Parliament for a handout,” the Jamaica 4H Club member argued.
Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke, as the effects of COVID-19 took root in the island, announced several compassionate grants for people who lost employment or were otherwise affected by the pandemic.
Minister Clarke’s grants included the Supporting Employees with the Transfer of Cash (SET Cash) component of the Government’s COVID-19 Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) Programme.
Clarke said that applications were being processed and payments would be made following a review of the verification procedure by the Auditor General’s Department, to ensure payees’ compliance with the defined eligibility criteria.
The SET Cash grant is for people earning $1.5 million or less whose employment was terminated after March 10 as a result of the impact of COVID-19 on economic activity.
Employees and entrepreneurs in the tourism sector were also given special assistance after the island’s borders were closed and hotels ceased operation. People with a record of paying taxes were eligible for the Government grants.
“Some of us just got around to registering our businesses so we are not yet a year in taxes so we didn’t qualify for a more suitable package, and this is a bit disappointing,” Wynter said in explaining why many farmers were unable to claim compassionate grants. He, nonetheless, feels that Government should have formulated a special grant for affected farmers.
After COVID-19 restrictions took effect in March, farmers, especially those in the ‘bread basket’ St Elizabeth, saw the market they depended on in the hotels evaporate as the tourism sector shut its doors. Many farmers saw produce spoil in the fields as the traditional chain of distribution was interrupted.
Wynter plants Irish and sweet potatoes, tomatoes, sweet pepper and broccoli at his farm in Grove Place, Manchester, and is one of the select farmers in the 4H young farmers project – the Rural Youth Economic Empowerment Programme (RYEEP). He was one four young farmers who this year received a gasoline-operated tiller machine from the Jamaica 4H Clubs under the RYEEP.
“I was introduced to the 4H by the reigning Miss Manchester Festival Queen Isha Nation,” he shared. “She didn’t need to convince me or mention the offer a second time because its programmes like this help young farmers like me to flourish and take back agriculture. So, I said yes.
“I started farming after my brother came with the idea of planting carrots. At first I really wasn’t into it because this farming business can be very challenging, especially when you don’t have the tools, resources and market. But after meeting my significant other and she enlightened me about business and that her family has been doing it for years, I went all in”.
Wynter, who attended Bellefield High School in his native Manchester, is from a family of farmers and has seen first-hand the vagaries of the fickle profession.
“My mother farms as well. She rears pigs, goats, rabbits and ducks, but praedial larceny has forced her out of the goat business,” he said. His grandfather, too, has been a victim of praedial larceny over the years. “In fact, he has lost four goats since the start of the COVID-19 in March,” the young farmer said, adding though that he is in the process of involving his younger brother in bee-keeping. “The bees can pollinate my farm.”
He, however, soldiers on in the vocation that he entered in 2016. “I used to do it part-time at first but last year I started full-time,” he said, adding that with the right approach farming can be very profitable.
“That is, doing soil tests, knowing what crops will do well on the soil you have; investing in water storage, either tanks or ponds. You cannot depend on rainfall, especially since we have been experiencing long droughts in recent years. Understanding what chemicals to use on crops, doing crop rotation, doing market research, and knowing all that is important to the crops you plant will guarantee success even with the fluctuation in prices of local produce.”
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