Agro-Investment Corporation, the state agency with responsibility for agricultural investment and promotion, is expanding the agro park network by 1,300 hectares that are to be commissioned into service within two years.
Infrastructure work, including farm layout, irrigation systems, road network, lighting and drainage, is under way at the new parks being developed at Essex Valley in St Elizabeth, Parnassus in Clarendon, and Bridge Pen, St Catherine. The Parnassus and Bridge Pen properties were purchased by Agro-Invest in 2020.
Individually, the new parks measure 810 hectares, 315 hectares and 197 hectares, respectively.
The agro park network currently spans 1,800 hectares of farmlands across eight locations nationwide.
The expansion will grow the network to 3,100 hectares and 11 parks by 2025, and add cold storage for the highly perishable products produced within the farming network, spanning food tree crops, vegetables, spices, roots and tubers.
Initially, Agro-Invest’s target was 2,500 hectares under cultivation by 2025.
The parks are owned by the Jamaican government, but farmers lease plots of land within them for commercial production of agricultural produce.
The agro park system came into being a decade ago, as an initiative of the wider food security program that promotes the substitution of imports with local produce. Over time the model has evolved.
“We are now at the second and final stage of the agro park project, which we call Agro Park 2.0,” said Agro-Invest’s Senior Director of Agro Parks and Production Zones, Owen Scarlett.
Agro parks integrate all facets of the agricultural value chain from pre-production activities to production, post-harvesting and marketing. The activities are structured tripartite partnerships involving government, farmers and investors, and marketing entities like Jampro.
Phase one of the agro park program was largely centered around Agro-Invest identifying and acquiring lands for leases to farmers, and partnering with private entities to put idle lands under cultivation. Once under the agri-agency’s management, the lands are equipped with basic infrastructure and parcelled for leases by both local and international investors.
Under phase two of the programme, Agro-Invest will be adding more dry and cold storage capacity, processing facilities, packaging house and warehouse space at the parks to enhance their attractiveness to investors, and expand their irrigation systems, through financing from the Caribbean Development Bank.
The budget for the development has not been disclosed.
“Presently, we only have small dry storage spaces and packing house for some amount of packing and sorting at a few of the parks, but apart from a chill room at the agro park in New Forest, we have no cold storage facility at the parks ,” Scarlett said.
“Our aim is to have a dry goods, cold storage and processing facility at all the parks across the island, starting with Essex Valley. Once that is completed, then the next parks we are targeting for cold storage facilities are Bridge Pen and Amity Hall in St Catherine,” he said.
The parks currently managed by Agro-Invest are Plantain Garden River, St Thomas; Amity Hall, St Catherine; Ebony Park, Clarendon; Spring Plain, Clarendon; Mango Agro Park, Clarendon; Holland Estates, St Elizabeth; New Forest/Duff House, Manchester; and Yallahs, St Thomas.
Land use within the production zones is at 75 per cent, Scarlett added. The crops produced include onions, Irish potatoes, cassava, hot peppers, and fruits and vegetables.
Agro-Invest is currently on the hunt for investors in tree crops such as ackee, avocado and jackfruit.