Yam farmers reaping ‘sweet’ reward

August 07, 2020
Shermaine Barnett in her sweet yam field.
Shermaine Barnett in her sweet yam field.

Shermaine Barnett is one of 500 farmers growing sweet yam, and one of the approximately 4,000 farmers islandwide benefiting under the agriculture ministry's Production Incentive Programme (PIP).

Barnett, 40, who hails from Endeavour, St Ann, credits her high performance in the production of sweet yam to her participation in the seminars, farms visits, assistance with pesticides, as well as the supplies of planting materials and pesticides from Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).

"If I were to rate the help I received from RADA out of 10, it would be a 10," said Barrett, who also grows Irish potato and corn.

She said that her yam crop was affected by the anthracnose disease, but RADA stepped in and was able to remedy the situation, breathing new life into her farming operations, which consist of some 1,000 yam hills.

The agriculture ministry says that there has been a 12 per cent increase in sweet yam production under the PIP for the 2019-20 fiscal year, when compared to the corresponding period of 2018-19.

800 tonnes

Collin Henry, acting senior director of production marketing at RADA, said that 800 tonnes of sweet yam valued at $150 million was produced over the period.

Henry, who has oversight for the sweet yam programme, said that the growth of sweet yam, as well as the other crops, will help to reduce the rural-to-urban drift and contribute to rural development, sustaining rural farmers and their families.

"The growth of sweet yam among the farmers has also managed to secure employment in rural communities," he added.

Meanwhile, Barnett, who has been a farmer for the past nine years, is encouraging young people to get into the business, stating that it is a challenging but financially rewarding vocation, which has enabled her "to live above the poverty line".

"It is also a feeling of great accomplishment, knowing I am contributing significantly to feed Jamaica and, by extension, the world, as I export sweet yam," she added.

To date, Barnett has exported 10,000 pounds of sweet yams and she has a positive outlook for the future, with "more growth and prosperity" on the horizon.

"Come next year, I will also be trying a new method of planting sweet yam called trellising, which, if successful, will result in more profits, so the future is bright," she said.

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