Agro Investment Corporation (AIC), the State entity mandated to facilitate investment in agriculture, says it is pushing to increase, by at least five per cent within the next five years, the number of young Jamaicans involved in the sector on its agro parks.
According to AIC, of the 370 farmers now operating on the island’s eight agro parks, approximately 15 per cent are young people, most under the age of 35.
“Over the next five years we want to increase the 15 per cent to 20 per cent,” AIC Chief Marketing Officer Alecia Brown-Forbes told the Jamaica Observer last week.
The target, Brown-Forbes said, was deliberately conservative as the agency wants to ensure that it can provide adequate support to the young farmers.
That support, as listed on AIC’s website, includes business planning, market linkages, technical and tractor services.
Part of the effort to attract young people, she said, involves a social media push, given the popularity of that platform among adolescents.
“Recently, I posted a young farmer who had just received her plot of land. She received free land prep from us and she’s now putting in her hot peppers. That generated quite a bit of traction from people who are interested,” Brown-Forbes said, adding that AIC is looking at expanding its advertising and promotional campaigns next year.
Additionally, the agency has forged an agreement with Jamaica 4-H Clubs to engage students who are interested in agriculture, starting next year.
One of AIC’s mandates is to increase the attractiveness of the sector to younger, skilled, and trained entrepreneurs.
To achieve that objective, the agency says it provides financial support.
“We don’t expect most young people, at 20 years old and 25 years old, coming on to any of the agro parks to say, ‘My bank account is $5 million’. They’re not going to have it,” AIC Chief Executive Officer Dr Al Powell told the Observer.
“If you come, and you have the interest but you don’t have the funding and can demonstrate that you can pay us back, over time, we will help you,” he said.
“We’re currently working on that very hard, because we recognise that the average age of farmers is about 49 years. So we have to start bringing in the young people,” he added.
“We’re also helping them in terms of providing training, and while we always ask people to come in with a marketing plan, we will help them to market.”
He said the agro parks have all the amenities that will help farmers drive production, and the 4,500 acres across the eight parks will increase as AIC has been directed by the Government to manage the approximately 2,400-acre Holland estate.
The AIC’s thrust will complement a plan by the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) to launch a Young Farmers’ Association that, it said, will support youth who want to pursue a career in agriculture.
Lenworth Fulton, the JAS president, had announced the association’s intention in July 2019, saying that the objective is to “better attract that age cohort among our farmers, a very important group, especially in terms of our drive to make farming more tech-savvy and tech-friendly, and to better prepare for the coming ravages of climate change”.
The JAS, he said, recognises that young farmers are “some of the finest entrepreneurial minds coming into the agricultural sector”.