The parish of Clarendon is likely to see a boost in agricultural production, through the establishment of the Mocho Greenhouse Training Centre.
A project of the Mocho Community Council through funding from the Alcoa Foundation, Jamalco, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Food for the Poor, the centre, which was officially opened last month, will provide training to farmers and agricultural students in greenhouse technology or protected farming.
The aim is to ensure the sustainability of the agricultural sector to enhance food security, by providing persons with the training and expertise to operate successful business ventures.
Located on a gently rolling hillside, the facility consists of training rooms and administrative offices at the top of the hill; six tunnel greenhouses spread out at intervals below these; and a water catchment pond and solar pump in the valley below the greenhouses. Pipes take the water to four 2,000-gallon water tanks located at a high point above the greenhouses and gravity irrigation infrastructure feeds the precious commodity to the greenhouses.
The HEART Trust/NTA, through its flagship training institution for agriculture, the Ebony Park HEART Academy, is in charge of training and certifying the participants.
Already, 12 farmers and students have participated in a one-year programme in greenhouse construction, which was undertaken at Ebony Park and at the Mocho Centre. They have completed 24 courses covering all aspects of the programme and are awaiting final assessment for Level 2 certification in greenhouse technology.
Trainee Danesha Edwards told JIS News that the programme was both challenging and rewarding. "I learnt a lot and what I enjoyed most was interacting with the soil because I always love agriculture. I hope to get a job on a farm with greenhouses," she shared.
HEART Co-ordinator, Mr. Anthony Trout, said that the participants were very receptive to the programme and that several will be involved in operating the greenhouses at the Mocho Centre, while others have job prospects on farms locally and overseas. He explained that trainees also have the option of accessing further training from HEART to take them to Levels 3 and 4.
Mr. Trout informed that HEART has received more than 100 applications for the next cycle of training and will select 20 students for the programme.
Jamalco's Manager for Corporate Services and Government Affairs, Mr. Leo Lambert, told JIS News that Jamalco mined bauxite in the Mocho area for many years and the greenhouse project, which restores mined-out land to productive use, "is a central plank in our sustainability strategy."
He informed that Jamalco and the Alcoa Foundation have invested some $25.5 million (US$285,892) in cash and kind to the project over the last two years.
The contribution included the value of the land on which the centre is built, and expertise in the areas of project management, and engineering and construction to ensure that the facility meets and exceeds the required standard.
According to Mr. Lambert, the Mocho greenhouse project is a model for sustainable community development that "we propose to expand it in the other communities in which we operate. We want to assist our neighbours to develop alternative and lasting income generating projects that will ensure their food and economic security."
The USAID provided assistance through its affiliate organisation Jamaica Farmers Access to Regional Markets (JA FARMS). In a recent project report, Chief of Party at JA FARMS, Weston Moses, said that the project will carry through the original plan of using the greenhouses as a business incubator.
Chairman of the project committee of the Mocho Community Council, Mr. Enos Anderson, in the meantime, said that the benefits of the project to the community will be threefold. "It will bring positive recognition to Mocho. It will provide some sustainable economic development for the community and it will benefit the farmers in the area and trainees, who will acquire greenhouse technology skills," he stated.