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Photo: JIS Photographer Cattle graze on a dairy farm in Cabbage Valley, St. Elizabeth.

With dairy farmers only producing 10 per cent of the US$50 million worth of fresh milk and milk products consumed by Jamaicans annually, the Jamaica Dairy Development Board (JDDB) is on a mission to significantly boost productivity in the sector.

Local farmers produce between 12 and 13 million litres of fresh milk per year, valued at over $800 million. When translated to the retail end of the trade, this is worth over $3.4 billion.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Jamaica Dairy Development Board (JDDB), Hugh Graham, tells JIS News that there is room for further development within the industry.

“We are only 10 per cent self-sufficient.  We produce fresh milk, and limited amount of yogurt. But we import a huge amount of skimmed milk powder, whole milk powder, condensed milk, ice cream, yogurt, cheese, whipped cream, butter, and butter oil,” he says.

“There are lots of dairy products that we consume but…what we produce, we are a long way off the mark. That is why the JDDB is working very closely with Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), our international partners the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the Inter-American Institute Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA) to increase the production of fresh milk and, thereafter, we can expand on the product range,” he informs.

Mr. Graham says a number of measures have been put in place to increase productivity, that have begun to yield success.

He tells JIS News that so successful are the initiatives, some of which were implemented in the past year, that the Board is aiming to intensify its efforts.

These entail offering concessionary loan facilities to farmers, building the capacity of stakeholder organizations, and instituting training programmes.

Over the past year, fodder banks were introduced to mitigate the effects of the recent drought, and funds have been provided to enable farmers to acquire needed equipment and machinery.

“Fodder banks, are forage facilities where the farmers cut and carry feed to be stocked for usage during the drought period,” Mr. Graham says.                .

In addition, $20 million have been spent by the JDDB to acquire forage harvesting and chaffing equipment to assist dairy farmers to mechanize their feeding system. These equipment improve the digestibility and nutrition of animal feed and reduce the cost of this input to farmers.

“The recent tour of the dairy farms across the island showed the impact of Dairy Board’s intervention on the ground, the fodder banks in particular; the farmers were quite appreciative. We saw farmers using the chaffing equipment and we saw, firsthand, how the farmers were coping with the drought and, of course, we were very encouraged to the extent that our Board of Directors says it is willing to expand some of these programmes,” Mr. Graham informs.

The JDDB CEO tells JIS News that the Board is also looking at “things like new technology in terms of feeds and certain grasses and legumes that will improve nutrition to increase the production and productivity of the dairy animals.”

He further reveals that concessionary loans are available to facilitate special technical assistance such as retooling. These loans are currently made available to dairy farmers and have been extended to beef farmers at a very low rate of five per cent per annum. Individual farmers can access up to $5 million and organizations up to $10 million, Mr. Graham informs.

He says the JDDB has also committed over $20 million to deal with the matter of praedial larceny, which he points out, is one of the largest impediments to production and increasing the size of herds.

“Thieves will just come in and unconscionably remove entire herds, or most of the herds, in one night. This is one of the drawbacks to further investments, particularly in cattle farming; but we have programmes in place to combat praedial larceny and they are reaping some rewards,” he says.

He informs that there is also a Heifer Rescue Programme, which aims to rescue heifers of good quality that are heading for the meat trade.

“We started with 300 animals, pregnant heifers, and of course all those animals have been taken up already.  It has been encouraging. We are seeing some demand from persons entering into dairy at the small to medium scale,” Mr. Graham explains.  

Dairy farmer for 42 years, Basil Perreil, is commending the JDDB and the late Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Roger Clarke, for the stimuli that have been injected into industry.

“The Dairy Board saw our challenges and came in and assisted us with fodder banks so we can have grass in reserve during the drought period, since St. Elizabeth suffers from perennial drought.  They also sourced equipment from Brazil to assist farmers to chaff grass to feed our animals,” Mr. Perreil notes.

Mr. Perreil, who operates a 40-acre farm with 61 heads of cattle in Cabbage Valley, Braes River, St. Elizabeth, laments that there are hardly any good pastures around, and indicates that he would like to see the government resuscitate pastures for grazing.  He also wants the government to set up semen banks to “inject some new blood” into the Jamaica Hope.

The Jamaica Hope is a dairy cattle breed developed locally specifically for tropical climates. The breed is heat tolerant, has high resistance to tick infestation and tick-borne diseases and is able to maintain high levels of milk production on the undeveloped and difficult pasture conditions, common to most tropical countries.

Another dairy farmer from Rhymesbury, Clarendon, Charles Learmond, welcomes the support from the JDDB.

“I believe that every effort should be made to resuscitate the industry, but one of the greatest challenges that we faced, as dairy farmers, is energy cost.  So, we have been having dialogue with the Board to assist farmers to invest in solar energy,” Mr. Learmond notes.

Currently there are over 88 local dairy farmers concentrated in the parishes of Clarendon, St. Elizabeth, St. Catherine, and St. Thomas.

“This is a significant decrease from in the 1990s when we have over 10 times that amount.  The decrease is due to changes in the economic environment that were brought about by trade liberalization,” the Board’s CEO tells JIS News.

The Jamaica Dairy Development Board (JDDB) was established under Act No. 4 of 2009, for the purpose of promoting and fostering the development of the dairy sector, with particular emphasis on promoting local milk production and achieving efficiencies in the production, processing, marketing, and other trade in dairy products.

Persons interested in entering dairy farming may contact the Jamaica Dairy Development Board at 618-7107, 927-1731-50 or email dairyboard@moa.gov.jm.