Fri | Oct 23, 2020

‘Pennies for produce’ - Farmers, others in Bellas Gate lament decades-long neglect

Published:Wednesday | September 30, 2020 | 12:17 AMRuddy Mathison/Gleaner Writer
Vice-president of the Bellas Gate Community Development Committee, Burchell Watson (left), discusses the issues affecting the community with Winston Haywood (centre) and Fitz Smith, veteran farmers.
Vice-president of the Bellas Gate Community Development Committee, Burchell Watson (left), discusses the issues affecting the community with Winston Haywood (centre) and Fitz Smith, veteran farmers.
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Residents of Bellas Gate, a rural farming community in St Catherine, have been crying out for basic infrastructure and job opportunities for its declining youth population.

But that lament for improved infrastructure, such as health and community centres, as well as skills-training facilities, has largely gone unnoticed for decades, residents told The Gleaner on Monday.

“For years, we have been crying out for a health centre to be constructed in the community, given the size of the population and the distance we have to travel to get to the nearest health centre, which is more than six miles,” said Burchell Watson, vice-president of the community development committee.

Watson said those deficits extend to farmers, who are having difficulties accessing markets for their produce.

“We have been trying, as a group, to change a lot of things, but it’s hard when there is no assistance coming from the authorities,” he said.

Watson estimates that 20,000 people reside in the ring of rural communities including Bellas Gate, Blue Hole, Sand Hole, among others.

Fitz Smith, 74, a fourth-generation farmer, said that he had been forced to go into agriculture because of the paucity of job opportunities in the community.

“Farming is the only activity, but most of the youths not interested, maybe because they see that we can’t get suitable market and they see a lot of our crop just go to waste, and we are not making much money,” Smith told The Gleaner.

DIG DEEP TO SURVIVE

Winston Haywood, who has been farming for more than 60 years, reiterated the problem of sourcing markets for their produce. They have had to dig deep to survive, he said.

“When we take our crops to the Old Harbour, Spanish Town and Coronation markets, we get pennies for our produce,” said Haywood, who started farming in his 20s.

The veteran farmer has also accused persons in Bellas Gate of collaborating with thieves to plunder their livestock, creating additional problems for agriculturers.

Theft has been a perennial woe of cultivators and livestock farmers, with few of the perpetrators being caught and prosecuted. Praedial larceny is conservatively billed at $6 billion annually.

Both Haywood and Smith say they believe the Rural Agricultural Development Authority should be empowered to assist them in that regard, but the input from that agency and others has been missing from the community.

Raphael Logan, 25, said that he recognised the lack of opportunities early and decided to try his hand at agriculture.

He now has a greenhouse from which he sells various suckers.

Meanwhile, Toney, who is in his mid-20s, has his eye cast on the emerging medicinal marijuana industry. He has been asking a community group to lobby for a licence to grow ganja, which would provide a glimmer of hope for youth who have little confidence in traditional crops.