January 4, 2011

ACDI/VOCA Leaders Tout Cocoa’s Promise in Jamaica

High-value Agriculture Can Create Jobs, Help Vulnerable Populations

Agriculture holds great economic promise for Jamaica, which struggles with high rates of unemployment and inflation, say ACDI/VOCA leaders Dr. Mort Neufville and Carl Leonard, who recently traveled to the country on a fact-finding trip.

Although agriculture makes up only 6-8 percent of Jamaica’s gross domestic product (CIA World Factbook), high-value crops like cocoa could be potential economic boons, they say, especially for providing licit livelihoods that offer good incomes.

ACDI/VOCA Board Chair Neufville and President Leonard toured local farms and spoke with participants of the USAID-funded Marketing and Agriculture for Jamaican Improved Competitiveness (MAJIC) project, which started in spring 2010. They visited six sites across the countryside related to cocoa and horticulture.

Cocoa, Other High-Value Crops

Jamaica’s cocoa production and exports have declined over recent years because of such factors as unfavorable weather, poor farming techniques and lack of support from the national cocoa board to provide assistance in rehabilitating fields, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization..

“Cocoa development begins at the grassroots, and that’s what’s needed here,” says Jamaican-born Neufville, citing his experience with ACDI/VOCA’s six-nation SUCCESS Alliance cocoa initiative, funded by USDA and USAID with the World Cocoa Foundation, Hershey’s, Mars Inc. and others partners.

MAJIC builds the capacity of the Jamaica Cocoa Farmers Association to improve on-farm management practices and circumvent intermediaries—who take a cut of the profits—to directly handle post-harvest processing and cocoa exports.

MAJIC also builds farmers’ skills through 21 cocoa-centered farmer field schools, which reach 375 farmers, where trainers use demonstration plots and targeted subsidies to support farmers’ efforts and introduce new techniques.

Through the project, Jamaicans will add more income to their wallets by growing intensely cultivated, short-season, high-value horticultural crops such as Scotch Bonnet peppers and onions.

Market-Driven Approach

“I love this country—I long to see her prosper,” says Neufville, who spoke at a Kingston reception attended by Jamaican government officials, USAID Mission Director Karen Hilliard, farmers, private firm representatives and international aid partners.

Neufville endorsed the comprehensive approach of MAJIC, with its focus on key crops, saying the project gives farmers accurate, timely market information; enhances competitiveness and builds market linkages along entire horticulture and cocoa value chains; educates farmers; and provides agricultural credit.

“MAJIC is an ambitious project,” he says. “It works to create a market-driven, competitive industry, with increased volume and value of agricultural commodities.”

Personal Note: Jamaica School of Agriculture

A personal highlight for Neufville was his address, Renewing the Covenant, to fellow “Ole Farmers” at the 100th anniversary of the country’s premier agriculture college, the Jamaica School of Agriculture. The large gathering of alumni welcomed back Neufville, who emigrated to the United States years ago.

In his remarks, Neufville, who formerly chaired the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture’s board and was executive vice president of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, challenges his fellow alumni to give back to their communities and serve agriculture.

When we invest in agricultural education, we invest in people, Neufville says. And when we invest in people, we create a united Jamaican future, he adds: “From many, one people.”

Learn more about our work in Jamaica.

Pictured at top left: ACDI/VOCA Chair Mort Neufville and President Carl Leonard meet with local Jamaican farmers at a training event.