Greenhouse farmers optimistic after visit by World Bank boss

WILLIAMSFIELD, Manchester — Greenhouse farmers here are hopeful that the expansion of a cluster near here will be realised soon following Wednesday’s historic visit by World Bank Group President Ajay Banga.

“It is looking really prosperous…This will give us a boost and more people will even get more interested in this now, seeing that he [Banga] is here. Probably, we will get better assistance,” Content greenhouse farmer Byron Girvan told the Jamaica Observer.

Banga, the first World Bank president to visit Jamaica, is on a months-long global tour described as a new playbook for the 78-year-old institution. He assumed the presidency on June 2 and will visit several countries in every region where the World Bank Group operates.

During his tour of the Content Greenhouse Cluster, Banga commended farmers for their achievement and highlighted the importance of food security.

“This is the first trip I have made since I took up my job…I started with this region, I was in Peru and I have come here,” he said.

“There are three things about something like this that makes it very important for us in what we do. We are a bank, but what we actually do is to help people do better for themselves, so the world is a better place.

“That world requires food security. Growing your food to high quality. Getting the right compensation for it [and] being able to earn a living out of it and changing the lives of your children and families, that to me is the first priority,” added Banga.

He said the repurposing of mined out lands for greenhouse farming is commendable.

“The second priority is to be able to take what was a mining location, which otherwise would have been ugly, finished and lost, and convert it into a healthy growing vital part of our society. I think the fact that you were able to take these pits, repurpose them and at the same time construct these greenhouses and start growing outstanding vegetable is quite an achievement,” he said.

“I believe that if you earn money and if you do it with your own hands, it is the ultimate source of dignity. The way to get out of trouble is to have a job and to earn money; it is the best way to get out of trouble and what you [farmers] are all doing is demonstrating that that is possible,” added Banga.

The Content Greenhouse Cluster has been in operation from 2017 under the Jamaica Bauxite Institute/Jamaica Social Investment Fund Greenhouse Cluster and Water Harvesting Project.

The project is a part of the Rural Economic Development Initiative, funded by the World Bank.

Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Mining Floyd Green said Banga’s visit to the facility is significant.

“If you doubted how important agriculture and farming is to the world then just reflect on the fact that the first visit in Jamaica is to a farm,” said Green.

“We have been able to repurpose old lands that were used for bauxite mining that now has some of the best farmers in the entire Jamaica. We have been able to do that by using the greenhouse technology, which we have shown the president and the team. The farmers have been doing extremely well,” added Green.

Kemoy Lindsay, director of bauxite lands at Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI) said the next phase for the Content facility is to add 360 greenhouses to the 20 already there. The facility also has rainwater harvesting and a solar-powered pumping system.

“We are elated to welcome our benefactors, the World Bank, which is the main sponsor for the READY Programme. We are just showing them the fruits of the investment. The Content Cluster is one of our best-performing clusters and it represents that marriage between agriculture and mining, particularly bauxite mining. These areas that were once active mining pits have been repurposed completely to support our agriculture industry and this shows the level of sustainability that can be extracted from our mining sector… to the benefit of the farmers,” said Lindsay.

Yolanda Drakapoulos, general manager at JBI, said other clusters are located across the country.

“We are hoping to put in many more, because we have proven that the model works,” she said.

The farmers say greenhouse farming has been more beneficial for them than traditional farming.

“We produce sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes and we do the broccoli at times. We don’t get fully familiar with broccoli as yet, but we are going into it. We have [produced] a crop already and we saw the success of it,” said farmer Roy Johnson.

“We are hoping that more farmers will be able to gravitate to greenhouse farming; it is much more successful than outdoor farming,” he added.

He welcomed the visit of the World Bank Group president.

“It is a wonderful feeling and it is a joy to know that he [Banga] as the president of the World Bank is here. We appreciate it [and] to know that he came to see what we have done…” added Johnson.

Another farmer, Keisha Vassell, said she is grateful for Banga and his team to visit.

“I feel very good knowing that they just didn’t give us something and leave us, but they also check in on us to see how well we are benefiting. It is an honour to have them here,” she said.