After closing its doors for 21 years, Marper Farms in Manzanilla is set to reopen tomorrow, and 50,000 citrus plants will be available to farmers. In 1993 the farm’s propagating station, which produced the best variety of citrus and fruit plants on 100 acres of land was closed down by the People’s National Movement Government due to its unprofitability.
Only a cocoa germ plasm unit at the station was kept operational in order to continue the work of the Cocoa Research Unit at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus.
However, in 2012 farmers in and out of the community appealed to Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj to reopen the propagating station since there was a shortfall of nursery plants. The farmers claimed that sourcing young plants at the St Augustine Nurseries, La Reunion Propagation Station in Centeno, and at Farm Road in St Joseph, was leaving them frustrated.
The farmers also suggested that the station be used as a training centre for budding agriculturalists and farmers, to generate jobs, produce a variety of seedlings, and to be converted into an eco-park for tourists.
Maharaj invests $3.5 million in farm
Maharaj eventually took the farmers’ advice and injected $3.5 million to re-establish the station to cater for the needs of the farmers who have been crying out for help. They praised the efforts of the Food Production Minister. In the last 18 months, senior agricultural foreman Hayman Ramdhanie said there was a major transformation of the old station. “We did a lot of upgrade work, and 50,000 citrus plants were propagated and tended to by OJT trainees to get the project off the ground,” Ramdhanie said.
“We have really come a long way in turning this place around.” Next year, Ramdhanie said, they will produce 150,000 citrus and fruit plants which will be offered to both farmers and the public. “While we will try to ensure that every farmer is supplied plants, priority will be given to those who have placed orders at the government farms since 2008. We are in the process of contacting these farmers to inform them when to come in and make their purchases.”
Sourcing labour a big problem
For the plants to grow in a conducive environment, Ramdhanie said, two large glass houses and five plant sheds were constructed last year. A water pump, water tanks, agricultural equipment and machinery were also purchased. Also, an access road leading to the farm was paved, while security cameras were installed, a fence erected, and armed guards were hired.
He said the station’s biggest problem, however, was sourcing labour. “Like every farm in the country, attracting workers has been difficult as few people want to get involved in agriculture. As it stands, we need at least 50 workers to reach our projected target next year. We are keeping our fingers crossed that things work out,” he said.