Peasant Farming In Jamaica
The term peasant farming is used in Jamaica to describe a number of different agricultural activities.
The farmer may be growing crops that are normally associated with the plantation system such as Jamaica sugar cane farmers own small plots of land of approximately 410 hectares or less, and grow sugar cane which is sold to the factories for the production of sugar crystals. This is now the main form of peasant farming in Jamaica.
What do Jamaican peasant farmers grow
Most of the Jamaican small farmers are growing bananas on lands that are owned or leased by small-scale farmers who sell to Jamaica Banana Company.
Small farmers are really peasant farmers cultivating some rice, coconuts, cocoa, coffee and especially ground provisions. The Jamaican farmer may be engaged in mixed farming which essentially means a system where both plants and animals are reared for sale. Crops grown by small scale farmers in Jamaica include green vegetables such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbages, lettuce, cucumbers, bodi, pak choi, dasheen and melon, yams, cassava, dasheen are grown; but the farmer is also involved in rearing chickens and pigs, with perhaps a cow or two. There is no problem in finding a small farm in Jamaica.
The farm may be a very small unit less than two hectares, and near to an urban centre. Peasant farmers in Jamaica such as these, have farms that are intensively cultivated and are used mainly to produce vegetables for a nearby urban market. Such farmers are sometimes called market gardeners.
Jamaican peasant farmers can thus be said to grow food not just to feed their families, but are concerned about producing surpluses for sale.
The land is normally cultivated by the farmer and his family i.e. his wife and children. Although some farmers are willing and able to hire help, these small farming enterprise normally less than 10 hectares and never more than 20 hectares have to compete with larger estates which are able to offer better work conditions. Besides this, wages in Jamaican agriculture are normally lower than in other sectors of the economy, so people work for Jamaica small farmers only as a last resort.
There is also the social stigma of agricultural work. In our history of Jamaica forced labor on the estates and the hard work under the tropical sun, sometimes in rainy conditions, tend to discourage young people from agricultural work. Instead, we have a steady trek to the urban areas, where there is severe competition for the few ‘white-collar’ jobs. This is one of the primary hindrances to small farming in Jamaica.
In order to deal with this problem of labor, peasant farmers in Jamaica have been slowly introducing machines on their farms. Traditional tools were hoes, cutlasses, horse and cattle-drawn ploughs and animal-drawn carts used in transport of the harvested crops. Today some peasant farmers in Guyana producing rice have combine harvesters. Tractors are used for ploughing and pumps for irrigation and drainage are also common.
Jamaica growing soil type
The first agricultural systems developed in Jamaica were the plantations. They naturally used the richest farmland. Slaves and indentured laborers, who later wanted farms, were forced to use the less desirable hilly land or areas with poor drainage. Peasant farming in Jamaica reflects this pattern.
To help the impoverished soils, manures and fertilizers are used as widely as possible. Small- scale farmers use the droppings from cows, pigs, chickens and goats and whatever is available, to help fertilize the soil. The Jamaican government subsidies farmers to use chemical fertilizers, such as sulfate of ammonia and other fertilizers rich in nitrogen, potash and phosphate, to improve their soils. A wide range of insecticides is also readily available from the Ministry Of Agriculture.
Harvest time is a busy time for peasant farmers. Most of the crops are short-term crops (grow and ripen within three months) e.g. tomatoes, cabbages, lettuce, cucumbers and pak choi. The farmer works with his family to pick the crop and get it ready for market, e.g. tomatoes are graded according to size and put in special baskets for transport. The outer leaves of the cabbage must be removed before sale.
How the produce is sold differs slightly from one territory to the other. The very small-scale farmers often retail their own produce on roadside stalls near the urban areas, or on major roads leading to the towns. This is not practical for the larger-scale farmers, who sell to wholesalers. These wholesaler acts as middlemen, buy the entire crop, transport it to major market centers by truck or van and then resell it to retail vendors, who deal with the public. Needless to say, with each reselling there is au increase in the price of the commodity.
To help the small scale farmer sell his produce, the Jamaican governments have set up purchasing and retailing boards for farmers’ crops. One example is RADA (Rural Agricultural Development Agency), which agrees to buy produce such as bananas, sweet peppers, pigeon peas, cabbages, sorrel, tomatoes and pigs from small farmers at guaranteed prices.
Problems of the Small farmer
The Jamaican peasant farmer faces many problems. Among these problems are:
Farms are small and the soils are poor. Most farmers are unable to buy machines which would help to improve yields, or purchase the fertilizers that they need. This has plagued many Portland Jamaica small coffee farmers.
Historical and cultural reasons have led to farms being broken up into smaller units and passed on to children. This has caused farms to be smaller and lessened their productivity. A list of crops grown by peasant farmers in Jamaica can be found easily at the Ministry of Agriculture in Jamaica.
Unpredictable weather conditions destroy large quantities of produce. Drought in the dry season, flash flooding in low-lying areas in the wet period and hurricanes are among the hazards. Most territories have no crop insurance to cater for these difficulties.
Storage facilities are poor. Vegetables are plentiful in one period, and scarce in another. An example of this can be seen in Trinidad where tomato prices fluctuate from $4 to $24 per kilo depending on availability. There is an increasing tendency in Jamaica to develop settlements on farming land. Farmers are being pushed further away from their markets, as towns grow larger and spill over into the farmland.
If the food import bill in Jamaica is to decrease peasant farming in Jamaica, which serve the local markets, have to be made more productive. This can only be achieved with a better educated farmer and real contributions from the governments in the region.