THE Unemployment Relief Programme's (URP) agriculture section at Roxborough continues to reap rewards as participants learn and hone farming skills while growing a variety of crops.
The group, which consists of cassava expert Rossbert Lewis, Dorcas Toppin Gray (assistant regional supervisor – East), Berthille George (agriculture supervisor), Brenda Franklyn, Ethney Simmons, Karen Archer and Raquel Gibbs participated in a Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) training session last year on cassava industry development.
Today, Lewis attends to a lush field of 1,400 cassava plants, set to be reaped come October.
With much enthusiasm, Rossbert combs through the beds everyday, ensuring the plants are groomed and the environment ideal for growth.
“My job is to cultivate the land with the cassava, and by doing this you can see the results on how healthy the crops look. It’s giving us a chance to show that URP is highly involved in the projects,” a proud Lewis said.
His hope is to see more young people involved in agriculture so that the industry is sustained.
Committed to doing their part to boost agriculture in Tobago, URP participants invest their time nursing herb seedlings and other short crops at the nursery in Roxborough.
Programme co-ordinator Abigail Daniel told Newsday via text message on Sunday, "The agricultural programme is designed to expose participants to the best practices in agriculture that would empower and enable them to engage in farming as a sustainable livelihood."
The planting cycle consists of short term crops such as lettuce, patchoi, sweet peppers, tomatoes, hot peppers, pimento peppers, chive, celery and parsley and medium term crops – corn, pigeon peas, cassava, sweet potato, pumpkin, paw paw. In collaboration with the Division of Food Production, Forestry and Fisheries (DFPFF), the programme will also include plantain and bananas.
Daniel said the programme for the current cycle is projected to earn $120,000 from the sale of crops.
She said revenue generated from the agriculture programme from October 2018 to May 2019 totalled $42,155. But with their existing customer base, sales from World Food Day 2019 and a pilot "Friday Food Basket" initiative aimed at selling produce to programme participants, they expect that to triple.
She noted, however, that revenue is not distributed among participants but goes back into the programme.
She said participants benefit via the sale of produce back to them as well as an increased focus on practical training in the programme through the mobilisation of an agriculture task force and the development of agriculture satellite sites.
The official explained the programme took shape in January 2017 when the URP verification of participants allowed for identifying of one's interest in various areas of skill, including agriculture. She said feedback from the ongoing staff satisfaction survey and interest generated as the programme expanded saw a growing interest among participants.
"To harness this interest in agriculture and the desire to utilise these valuable skills, where they exist or can be improved among programme participants, the executive has demonstrated tremendous support in the acquisition of additional operating sites and the skills development of programme participants."
She said the URP Roxborough estate has consistently provided seedlings and produce to farmers and the public, largely originating from East Tobago, inclusive of URP programme participants. In April 2018, the sale of seedlings in the West region was piloted and was met with encouraging feedback Subsequently, output capacity was ramped up through the expansion of the Roxborough nursery and participation in practical training provided by the DFPFF in collaboration with the Division of Infrastructure, Quarrying and Environment and Division of Community Development, Enterprise Development and Labour. This tripartite initiative was launched in April 2018 and training was conducted between April-August 2018.