Community Drivers: ‘Breadbasket’ tradition lives on in St Elizabeth Loop Jamaica

Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

Rich soil, ideal climate and the ability to produce large quantities of various crops fit the profile of St. Elizabeth, the parish that has the reputation of being the ‘breadbasket’ of Jamaica.

The country’s third largest parish, St Elizabeth, also popularly referred to as St Bess, is an essential part of the nation’s food system, the parish being able to add hundreds of thousands of tonnes of domestic food crops to the national domestic output.

The parish continues to account for the largest share of land under cultivation nationally, and is able to help contribute significantly to the country’s food security.

Food production is mostly done on a large scale, including ground provisions, root crops, fruits, vegetables, peas, corn, sugarcane, pimento and ginger. There is also the rearing of cattle, fish farming and the production of rum in St Elizabeth.

The more than 35,000 registered farmers and fisher folks there, Government agencies and other stakeholders are the driving force behind St Elizabeth’s continued agricultural success. Their extensive work and inputs have allowed the parish to maintain its position throughout the decades, even as Jamaica celebrates its 60th Independence anniversary this year.

For Secretary of Flagaman’s Farmers Benevolent Society, Veron Reynolds, St Elizabeth deserves its moniker as the breadbasket parish for its resilience, as well as steps that were taken in the 1960s and 1970s.

The 65-year-old farmer gave an account of the early days of farming and how the tradition evolved in the parish.

“From my childhood years coming up, I watched my father and close relatives do farming using a bucket to carry water to wet the plants. I remember when they used a knapsack sprayer, where one would walk with the container while someone else is using the sprayer to spray the chemical,” explained Reynolds, who has been a farmer for over 45 years.

Secretary for the Flagaman Farmers’ Group in St Elizabeth, Veron Reynolds, shows off onions reaped from his farm.

“The farmers at the time used their abilities and their knowledge to produce at seasonal times. (They) could forecast the rain at specific times… so they would go ahead and do the necessary planting using their buckets,” continued Reynolds.

“Now, things have changed and improved through the implementation of drip irrigation, where 1,000-gallon containers are placed in the field, drip hoses are run in the field, trucks come in and fill up those tanks and the farmers wet where they want, irrigate when they want, which makes it much easier,” he added.

Reynolds, who also worked for years as an extension officer, told JIS News in an interview that the 1970s, particularly, was a crucial point in St Elizabeth’s history as it relates to the growth and expansion of livestock and crop farming.

He said the Government of the time, as well as other stakeholders, began to invest heavily in the sector through technical assistance, technological innovations and added resources.

“The old Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) factory used to be right here in Flagaman, where the Government of the day saw it fit to place a tractor so our farmers could get it for hiring within the surrounding community. Farmers from as far as Black River, Mountainside and Hounslow would also get the technical aspect and information from the factory, which would also buy their produce at the time,” Reynolds recounted.

A St Elizabeth farm with the new method of watering by drip irrigation fed from black tanks.

Today, St Elizabeth is covered by large swathes of fertile farmland and cutting-edge agricultural innovations. Farmers in the southwest of the parish specialise in the growing of vegetables and fruits, whereas in the northwest it is predominantly ground provisions as well as banana, plantain and other crops.

In the central part of the parish, there are plenty of livestock, such as cows, sheep, goats and pigs. Chickens can be found all over the parish.

Local fisherman, Sean Taylor, from Treasure Beach, told JIS News that St Elizabeth is among the largest fish producers in Jamaica.

Taylor, who has been a fisherman for more than 25 years, said the increase in technology and improved fishing techniques have helped to improve catches throughout the years.

“One of the things is that when I was going to sea, we normally use just a compass, but today, fishermen have handheld GPS that they use. We would place most of our traps afloat. That means we have a buoy that we can go and just identify, but the evolution in fishing saw the (adoption) of technology when you are not fishing close by the island,” the 53-year-old fisherman shared.

Fish farming is also active in St Elizabeth, according to Taylor, who pointed to an influx of fisher folk over the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So, when you look at the diversity of the parish that produces sorrel, yam, sweet potato, Irish potato and the fishing industry, if you check all the markets around Jamaica, you will find vendors selling produce from St Elizabeth,” said Taylor.

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