Trelawny farmers want more for yam

March 06, 2018
Yam farmers Alton 'Chin' Lee, Michael Hewitt and Franklyn 'Hooky' Pingling in Albert Town, Trelawny.
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It is not very often that one can find the light side to serious issues, but even with their livelihood under threat and no clear solution to their concerns, the yam farmers who frequent Queenie's Corner Bar in Albert Town, Trelawny, still believe that there is much to be happy about.

"We at the mercy of the buyer. Nutten nah gwaan," said Franklyn 'Hooky' Pingling, a yam farmer for more than four decades. "Is like everybody looking out for themselves because over the years we cannot form a group to represent our interest, while the rich man will always find a way fi work together.

"So any price they say, is that we have to sell for, but farming a my ting," Hooky continued. "I even leave go foreign and spend years and come back, and is mi yam farming again."

"When the price for yam drop, we still have to deal with the cost of fertiliser, yam sticks, machete, and fork."

South Trelawny produces roughly 70 per cent of the yellow and Negro yams exported annually, and is the largest agricultural producer behind the parish of St Elizabeth. However, farmers contend that they can barely survive based on what they are paid for their produce.

According to Hooky, during the Christmas period, the one purchaser of their produce on a weekly basis paid $10,000 for 100 pounds, but this has plunged to $5,000 and even $4,500 since February.

While admitting to having the same problem, Alton Lee was more interested in THE Western Star's opinion on Prime Minister Andrew Holness' performance since he took office two years ago.

"If we complain, we sell the yam cheap, and if we shut up, we still selling it for whatever the buyer offer, so it better we talk little politics," said Lee, otherwise called Chin.

"Yam have to sell because you must take care a di house or shop lock," he said.

Hugh Dixon, CEO of the South Trelawny Environmental Agency, believes that the farmers must also invest in their own development. According to him, the export and the domestic markets are the outlets for the farmer's produce, but pointed out that production is affected by the very weather pattern.

"Yam is a machete-driven commodity and for farmers to be able to influence price, they must become part of the value-added," he said. "It cannot be that the machete and the fork is still the sole equipment of the yam farmer. It must become more technologically driven."

"Our cultivators have acted selfishly and have failed to come together as a cooperative, and that is why they have the same complaint for almost a decade," Dixon added.

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