A team of researchers are currently carrying out investigations into organic farming with a view to provide local cultivators with the tools to tap into this growing trend towards environmental consciousness and personal well-being.
Titled, 'Nutrition Management and Test Management in Organic Agriculture', the project was initiated in 2001 with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency's (CIDA) Canada Jamaica Green Fund.
King's House and Green Castle Estates, in St Mary, contributed land and labour to the project in the hope that organic farming will catch on in Jamaica.
Project manager and member of the Jamaica Organic Agriculture Movement (JOAM), Dr Dwight Robinson, told JIS News that the nation could benefit from growing foods organically as this method will help in soil conservation and the earning of foreign exchange.
"The major principle of organic farming is conserving the soil, which is very critical to Jamaica, especially in a country where a lot of the agriculture is done on hillsides. The amount of top soil we lose per year as a result of conventional agriculture is alarming," he said.
Robinson pointed out that the country can benefit economically from organic farming as this was a rapidly growing Industry, with an annual 10-15 per cent growth rate in some countries.
He attributed this growth to a burgeoning demand "among persons who comprise a 'niche market' of health conscious and environmentally-conscious consumers who are demanding organic products".
Robinson also noted that these discerning consumers have been asking for organically grown Jamaican products, such as ginger and Blue Mountain Coffee.
In addition, he said internationally certified organically grown produce generally fetch anywhere from 20 to 100 per cent higher prices than conventionally grown products, so this represents huge opportunities for local growers.
However, Robinson explained that although organic farming "is becoming increasingly popular worldwide and locally, we have not collected the scientific information to ensure that they can deal with the nutritional needs of the crops they are growing and the pest management they have to do".
To carry out this research, Robinson explained that his team have set up two demonstration research plots at King's House and Green Castle Estates in St Mary.
The project essentially seeks to determine the pest complexes or the group of pests that affect crops such as cabbage, callaloo and other vegetables, negatively.
The research will also focus on the use of companion crops or crops that deter pests and the use of plant extracts or natural pesticides in deterring the pests.
Studies on nutrition management will focus on the most effective type of composting to be used when growing organically.
On completion of this research, Robinson said the JOAM will ensure that local farmers are made aware of the techniques that are necessary for effective organic farming. The project is expected to end by December.
The popularity of organically grown food is driven by several factors - the perception that this method of food production is better for the environment; organic foods are healthier due to less reliance on pesticide use; and concern that the application of new technologies to food production have negative environmental and health consequences.
The JOAM, which is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation (NGO), was established in May 2001 with the aim of fostering the development of the organic agriculture industry locally.