Dry-weather vegetable farming using Guinea grass mulch

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Dry-weather vegetable farming using Guinea grass mulch a farming system in southwest Jamaica
Davis, Malcolm S
Davis, Patricia D
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Subjects / Keywords:
Mulching ( lcsh )
Guinea grass ( lcsh )
Vegetables -- Fertilizers ( lcsh )
Farmers ( jstor )
Crops ( jstor )
Farms ( jstor )
bibliography ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
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Includes bibliographical references (leaf 26).
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Malcolm S. Davis., Patricia D. Davis.

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Malcolm S. Davis
Patricia D. Davis


Traditional root crops, tree crops and legumes have been largely replaced on the farms of
South St. Elizabeth, Jamaica by intensive cultivation of vegetable crops. This has been
accomplished in spite of dry tropical conditions through the use of guinea grass (Panicum
maximum) as an organic mulch. Thus, a different and perhaps unique farming system has
This report constitutes a description of the farming system in South St. Elizabeth. The
information herein was obtained during a one year period (1989-1990). During this time we
lived in a central location in the area of study, constantly interacting with the farmers and
their families. We grew and marketed our own plots of escallion (Allium sp.) using the
technology of the local farmers. In addition, we visited and talked with more than 200 area
farmers, discussing the benefits of the system and the constraints imposed upon it.
The paper presented here is composed of information obtained through personal observation
and from government reports and other literature and from conversations with farmers, local
extension officers and wholesale and retail marketers or 'higglers'. Additionally, 60 farms
representing a geographical cross section of the subject area were chosen for detailed
characterization, soil sampling and extensive informal interviewing. Data from these 60 farms
will be referred to as 'the sample' throughout the report. Numerical values and percentages
from this sample will be used to illustrate observations. No statistical analysis will appear in
this report but will be reported elsewhere.


The area under study extends in an irregular narrow band approximately 5 x 35 km from east
to west parallel to the southern coast of St. Elizabeth. Jamaica, and into the foothills of the Santa
Cruz mountain range.
Altitudes vary from approximately 300 above sea level in the Pedro Plains area in the west to
roughly 2000 feet in the foothills. Slopes of the land within the region vary widely from flat
plains to steep, rocky hillsides. Gentle to moderate slopes prevail in the farmers' fields.

The soils of the cultivated areas of South St. Elizabeth are red or brown bauxitic loams or clay
loams. They are of two types:
(1). St. Ann clay loam (classification BI, map symbol 78) described as a red-brown
clay loam with good structure over red or dusky red clay loam with poor structure. Added
phosphates are fixed rapidly by this soil.
(2). Bonnygate stony loam (classification B4, map symbol 77) described as a very shallow
brown or red-brown loam in crevices or as a thin veneer over hard limestone. Not really a soil
but rough stony land which may be drought and easily eroded. Surface area is usually 50% or
more bare limestone rock.
These soils are well-structured, well-drained and very permeable. They have been described
as being generally of low fertility (Stark, 1963). The underlying parent material is limestone.
Quantities of this material exist in various stages of weathering within the soil profile. Because
of this, the soils are less acid than is usual in tropical soils, most having pH values near neutral.


Malcolm S. Davis
Patricia D. Davis


Traditional root crops, tree crops and legumes have been largely replaced on the farms of
South St. Elizabeth, Jamaica by intensive cultivation of vegetable crops. This has been
accomplished in spite of dry tropical conditions through the use of guinea grass (Panicum
maximum) as an organic mulch. Thus, a different and perhaps unique farming system has
This report constitutes a description of the farming system in South St. Elizabeth. The
information herein was obtained during a one year period (1989-1990). During this time we
lived in a central location in the area of study, constantly interacting with the farmers and
their families. We grew and marketed our own plots of escallion (Allium sp.) using the
technology of the local farmers. In addition, we visited and talked with more than 200 area
farmers, discussing the benefits of the system and the constraints imposed upon it.
The paper presented here is composed of information obtained through personal observation
and from government reports and other literature and from conversations with farmers, local
extension officers and wholesale and retail marketers or 'higglers'. Additionally, 60 farms
representing a geographical cross section of the subject area were chosen for detailed
characterization, soil sampling and extensive informal interviewing. Data from these 60 farms
will be referred to as 'the sample' throughout the report. Numerical values and percentages
from this sample will be used to illustrate observations. No statistical analysis will appear in
this report but will be reported elsewhere.


The area under study extends in an irregular narrow band approximately 5 x 35 km from east
to west parallel to the southern coast of St. Elizabeth. Jamaica, and into the foothills of the Santa
Cruz mountain range.
Altitudes vary from approximately 300 above sea level in the Pedro Plains area in the west to
roughly 2000 feet in the foothills. Slopes of the land within the region vary widely from flat
plains to steep, rocky hillsides. Gentle to moderate slopes prevail in the farmers' fields.

The soils of the cultivated areas of South St. Elizabeth are red or brown bauxitic loams or clay
loams. They are of two types:
(1). St. Ann clay loam (classification BI, map symbol 78) described as a red-brown
clay loam with good structure over red or dusky red clay loam with poor structure. Added
phosphates are fixed rapidly by this soil.
(2). Bonnygate stony loam (classification B4, map symbol 77) described as a very shallow
brown or red-brown loam in crevices or as a thin veneer over hard limestone. Not really a soil
but rough stony land which may be drought and easily eroded. Surface area is usually 50% or
more bare limestone rock.
These soils are well-structured, well-drained and very permeable. They have been described
as being generally of low fertility (Stark, 1963). The underlying parent material is limestone.
Quantities of this material exist in various stages of weathering within the soil profile. Because
of this, the soils are less acid than is usual in tropical soils, most having pH values near neutral.

The climate in this area is that of the semi-arid tropics, with high temperatures, low rainfall
and windy conditions prevailing.

Precipitation to the south of the mountain ridge is relatively slight. It is highly seasonal and
tends to occur in showers of brief duration but of great intensity. For this reason, much of the
water may be lost to runoff and the potential for erosion is high (Daisley, 1982).
Thirty-year normal rainfall models are available from two stations within the farming
system area, Bull Savannah near the eastern end and Southfield toward the west (Brown, 1990).
For Bull Savannah, annual average rainfall totals 1045 mm (41.14 in.) with 740 mm (70.8%)
occurring during the spring and fall rainy seasons. For Southfield, annual average rainfall
totals 1160 mm (45.67 in.) with 840 mm (72.4%) occurring during the spring and fall rainy
seasons. Substantial differences in rainfall occur among locations within the area and even
from one farm to the next in a given season.

Reliable temperature data from within the area of study over a period of years are not
available, In general, the temperatures at a given altitude approximate those common for
similar latitudes in the Caribbean. We monitored daily high/low temperatures in Top Hill near
the center of the area of study from October 1989 through May 1990. The mean daily high for
the eight month period was 83.3 degrees, Fahrenheit. The mean daily low for the same period
was 65,4 degrees, Fahrenheit and the mean daily average was 74.4 degrees, Fahrenheit. Mean
daily average temperatures for the hottest month measured (October) was 75.9 degrees,
Fahrenheit. For the lowest month measured (March) the mean daily average temperature was
72,9 degrees, Fahrenheit. The summer months (June-August) were not measured and average
temperatures during this period would probably be several degrees higher. Some significant
variation in mean temperatures occurs from place to place within the region because of
differences in altitude.

Regular measurements of wind velocity in South St. Elizabeth have not been recorded. It is
obvious to any observer, however, that prevailing winds are brisk Winds approximating gale
force are not uncommon (Daisley, 1982).

As a rough indicator of potential ET, we measured pan evaporation from December 1989
through May 1990. Mean daily pan evaporation during this period was 6.8 mm and would be
somewhat higher during the summer months. Projected at the measured rate, pan evaporation
would be approximately 2500 mm, more than double the mean annual rainfall for the area.

For purposes of the study, the South St. Elizabeth vegetable farming area was divided into
four areas of similar size, each containing at least one small town. A stratified sample of sixty
farms was selected with fifteen farms chosen from each of the four areas. The sample was not
random because no comprehensive lists of the farmers in the area has been compiled
(Montague. 1989). The first fifteen farmers contacted in each area who met two simple criteria
and were willing to participate were selected for the sample. The criteria were (1) having at
least one field currently in production of escallion for market, and (2) having no source of
irrigation other than hand-carried water. Farmers, and in some cases family members, were
interviewed informally on subjects of farm operation and family activities. The information
obtained in these interviews was recorded along with data from field measurements and soil
analysis from each farm.

The range in farm sizes within the sample was 0.2 acres to 22 acres. The mean size of farms
in the sample was 5.2 acres and the median was 3.7 acres. Farmers with the largest acreages
tended to maintain a greater proportion of their land in fallow (guinea grass) than those with
smaller farms so that discrepancies in acres in vegetable production were not as great as
differences in overall farm acreage. Some of the smallest farms were managed by women
farmers who could be considered part-time farmers because a significant portion of their
productive time was spent in domestic duties or in working off- farm for wages. Mean farm
size for male farmers was 5.6 acres while that for female farmers was 3.7 acres (Table 1).
Sample farm-size distribution, in general, was similar to that reported by the Ministry of
Agriculture for the South St. Elizabeth area in 1982.

Table 1. Farm size in acres
OVERALL 5.2 3.7

Of the sixty farms, fifteen (25%) consisted of a single parcel of land, while forty-five (75%)
contained two or more noncontiguous parcels. Among male farmers, seven (15.2%) managed a
single parcel and thirty-nine managed two or more. Of fourteen female farmers, seven managed
single parcels and seven managed more than one. The maximum number of parcels managed by a
single farmer in each group was four (Table 2).

Table 2. Number of parcels
1 2 3 4

MALE FARMERS 7 15.2 28 60.8 7 15.2 4 8.7
FEMALE FARMERS 7 50 3 21.4 3 21.4 1 7.1
OVERALL 14 23.3 31 50.8 10 16.7 5 8.3

It has been stated that soils of the types prevailing in the area are generally of low fertility
(Stark, 1963). This is only partially true, however, since certain essential plant nutrients are
found at high levels on most of the farms. Indicators of soil fertility were obtained from
measurements of both cultivated escallion fields and adjacent fallow areas from each farm in
the sample and are presented below:

Cation exchange capacity
CEC (meq/100g) varied widely among the farms in the sample. The range in the cultivated
fields was from 5.51 to 31.75 with a mean of 15.40. In fallow areas, the range was from 3.88 to
29.81 with a mean of 14.41. More than half of the farms had CEC values in the medium range
(Table 3). The higher values were generally found near the western end of the area of study,
indicating a higher proportion of clay content in the soils there.

Table 3. CEC values for 60 farms in South St. Elizabeth
Cultivated Plots Fallow Areas
Number Number
CEC(meu/q) of Farms I of Farms X
High (>20) 13 22 9 15
Med 10-20 35 58 33 55
Low 0-10 12 20 18 30

Soil Acidity
The range of pH values in the cultivated escallion fields of the sample was 3.37 to 8.29, the
mean pH was 6.83 and the median was 6.77. The soils of the measured fallow areas were
somewhat more alkaline with a range of 5.87 to 8.15 with a mean of 7.14 and a median of 7.07.
This is not surprising since the soils in the cultivated fields generally contained less limestone
than those in the fallow areas. The addition of nitrogen fertilizers to the cultivated plots likely
contributed to their relative acidity. Sixty percent of the cultivated plots had pH values within
the range considered best for growing vegetables (6.0-7.0). Seven percent were more acid and
thirty-three percent were more alkaline than this ideal range (Table 4).

Table 4. pH values for 60 farms in South St. Elizabeth
Cultivated Plots
PH Ranges of Farms X.
Best range for vegetables (6.0-7.0) 36 60
Slightly more acid (5.5-6.0) 3 5
Highly acid (<5.5) 1 2
Slightly alkaline (7.0-7.5) 11 18
Very alkaline (>7.5) 9 15

Fallow Areas
of Farms 1
23 38
1 2
0 0
20 33
16 2

Plant-nutrient content
The soils of the farms in the sample tended to be high in potassium, magnesium and calcium
content but lower in nitrogen and phosphorus (Tables 5 and 6). Nutrient levels were similar
between cultivated plots and fallow areas except in the case of phosphorus. P205 levels were
consistently higher in the cultivated than in the fallow fields. This difference proved to be
related to the presence of grass mulch on the cultivated plots (Davis, etal. 1991).
Organic matter content of soil tends to be quite high. This is undoubtedly related to the
extensive root systems contributed by the guinea grass during fallow periods and by the
practice of bringing in grass grown in other locations for mulching when the land is in
vegetable production. For the sample, the range in % organic matter in cultivated fields was
3.58 to 7.27, the mean was 5.32 and the median was 5.26. In fallow areas the organic matter
content was even higher, the range being 3.76 to 9.87 with a mean of 5.65 and a median of 5.61.

Table 5. Soil fertility of 60 farms in South St. Elizabeth cultivated plots.

High or very high
Low or very low

Farms 2
19 3:
21 31
20 3;



Farms X.
57 9g
3 5
0 0

Table 6. Soil fertility of 60 farms in South St. Elizabeth fallow areas.

High or very high
Low or very low

Farms X
23 3f
21 3E
16 21



Farms X
60 100
0 0
0 0

Farms V
44 7
10 1
6 1



Households vary widely among South St. Elizabeth farmers. The number of household
members in the sample varied from one to fourteen, the mean being 5.1 and the median 5.0
(Table 7). The farm household typically includes a conjugal couple, either married or in an
consensual relationship. Other members of the household are usually related by blood to one
or both members of the couple. A few farms are managed by single persons who are widowed
or divorced or by younger single persons who have obtained access to family land but have not
yet formed a stable conjugal relationship.

Table 7. Household composition
Range Mean Median
Adults 1 to 7 3.2 3
Children (students & preschool) 0 to 9 2 2
Total 1 to 14 5.1 5

Family labor is not as crucial on the farms of South St. Elizabeth as it is on the small farms in
many other locations. Education for the children is highly valued and even though it is
expensive, the children are encouraged to attend school and to study. In addition, children of
school age participate in extracurricular activities such as band, athletics and boy scouts.
Children' contributions to farm work, therefore, are usually limited to performing certain
chores or to helping out during farm emergencies and brief periods of peak labor demand.
Domestic tasks such as cooking, cleaning, washing and carrying water usually are performed
by women in the household. A number of these women also farm, but sometimes the farmer's
mother, aunts or adult daughters perform the domestic tasks of the household but participate
little in the crop production.
Both men and women manage farms in South St. Elizabeth. When both men and women in
the same household farm, it is almost always done independently. Women typically plant fields
located near the home while the men may farm other fields located at some distance, which may
be family land or may be leased. The fields managed by the women are planted, cultivated and
harvested by them, and they'-sometimes hire labor. Proceeds from these fields are usually
owned and managed by the women, although household funds are pooled to some extent.
A number of the more prosperous farmers hire women for domestic work, especially when
the women of the household work off-farm for wages. A few farms are managed by men and
lack women in the household. In these cases, the men may perform most of the domestic tasks
for themselves. Female friends or family members may come in to help from time to time or part-
time domestic help is hired.

Farmers in South St. Elizabeth may hold their land through outright ownership, lease for
shares or lease for a set fee. Before examining the details of land tenure within the sample, we
will discuss a factor of great importance, not only to land tenure but to the entire farming
system of South St. Elizabeth. Since land holdings are ordinarily left to all the children of a
family, it might be expected that farm size would progressively decrease through succeeding
generations by fragmentation. However, many members of families of the parish have
emigrated temporarily for economic reasons. This sometimes takes the form of periodic
migrations for seasonal farm employment, usually to the United States or its possessions.
However, it may also take the form of long term emigration to England or Canada or the United
States. They sometimes send money to the family in Jamaica to meet expenses or for expansion
or to build a home for their retirement. These family members usually retain an interest in the

family land. During their absence, one or more family members remain on the land and farm
it. In these cases, the land is not usually farmed on shares but the proceeds are retained by the
farmer. Other land owners leave the parish to work in the cities of Jamaica, leasing the land to
friends or extended family members to be operated on shares. Thus, farms tend to remain intact
and under single management.
Another factor operating against decreasing average farm size is that successful farmers
expand their holdings through purchase or lease of additional land. Through these two
mechanisms, the average farm size remains relatively static.
Land leasing for purposes of farming on shares as practiced in South St. Elizabeth is
interesting in that the amount or proportion of the proceeds to be returned to the landowner is
often unspecified. Rather, the farmer is trusted to give the landowner a 'fair amount' of the
proceeds from the crops, thus in a bad economic year the landowner may receive little or
nothing but will receive a higher proportion when profits are good. In other cases a set
percentage of the proceeds from the crop is specified. The farmer normally provides all farm
inputs. A few farmers are 'squatting' on land which has been abandoned by the government or
by private companies. A recent law enables farmers to obtain title to land which they have been
farming for a certain number of years. Because of the complexity of the procedure, however,
few have taken advantage of this provision.
Within the sample, 56.7% of the farmers own all the land that they farm, 13.3% lease all of
their land while 28.3% own at least one parcel and lease at least one other. One farmer (1.7% of
the sample) is squatting on abandoned 'company land' (Table 8). In cases where the farmer is
farming land owned jointly by the family in which he holds an interest, we have classified the
farm as being owned by the farmer.

Table 8. Land tenure.
Owns Leases Leases + Owns Squatting
Number of farms 34 8 17 1
Percent 56.7 13.3 28.3 1.7

The obvious and immediate requirements for subsistence include food, water, shelter,
clothing and fuel. Secondary requirements are agricultural inputs. Increasingly, farmers are
striving toward the achievement of long term goals such as education for the children and
procurement of vehicles, electricity and water for irrigation. There is also increasing
expectation of obtaining modern 'luxuries' such as radios and cameras. Not to be overlooked is
the requirement for funds for social functions such as graduations, weddings, funerals, dances
and community or church-based activities. We will discuss some of these needs individually:

Although agriculture in South St. Elizabeth began as subsistence farming, there is no longer
any pure subsistence farming in the region. A typical comment from farmers is "everything
that we grow we eat and we sell." Although not strictly true, this statement is a summary of the
function of the small farms in the area.
In addition to the vegetable crops which predominate, some staples are grown and consumed
on each farm in the form of root crops (yams and cassava etc.) and legumes (gungo peas and red
peas). Many fruits are also grown on the farms and are important in the diet of farm families,
especially mango, ackee, papaya and avocado. Nevertheless, a large and growing proportion of
the farm family's diet is composed of purchased commodities, especially rice, wheat products,
potatoes, dairy products and eggs. As a corollary, production and consumption of traditional
carbohydrate sources are decreasing in the area (chiefly yam. cassava, gungo peas and corn).

Every farm has a tank or cistern with associated catchment area, usually consisting of a
corrugated tin (zinc) roof. This is the primary source of household water. In addition,

successful farmers must have some water for use in hand irrigation for maintaining seedling
nurseries, starting transplants and keeping the plants 'alive' during periods of extended
droughts. To this end, a number of the more successful farmers have an auxiliary tank near the
fields with an earth or concrete catchment area.
Frequently the rains during the rainy season are insufficient to accumulate enough water to
meet domestic needs during the dry season. At these times, cash expenditures and/or a
significant portion of family labor are necessary to procure additional water. Tank trucks, both
private and government-sponsored, haul water to individual farmers but it is expensive. Water
can also be obtained from roadside tanks and, more recently, from water pipes along the major
roads. This water must usually be transported by hand which is very time-consuming for farm
families located at some distance from these sources.

Clothing and shelter
While most farm families are able to maintain adequate basic levels of clothing and shelter,
there is a constant effort to upgrade these and farm families must allot a portion of the
household income for this purpose. Sometimes this is accomplished with the help of family
members who have left the area and are residing in the cities or abroad.

There are four basic types of fuel in general use for cooking among the farm families of
South St. Elizabeth: wood, charcoal, kerosene oil and bottled gas. Most families utilize more than
one. Even families who can afford gas or kerosene usually cook some items with wood out of
preference. Almost all families, even those with a kitchen in the home, maintain a detached
kitchen for cooking with wood. Kerosene is usually purchased from shops in the nearby towns.
Charcoal may be purchased from local shops or from higglers who bring it in. Gas must be
procured from larger towns or cities some 20 miles distant. Table 9 presents the numbers and
percentages of families in the sample using the various fuel types.

Table 9 Types of fuel used for cooking
Wood 6as Kerosene Charcoal Electricity
Number of farmers 55 31 25 17 2
Percent of sample* 91.7 51.7 41.7 28.3 3.3

* Percentages total more than 100 because of multiple fuel types in the same household.

Procurement of firewood requires a significant portion of the farm family's labor and/or
cash resources. It may be procured from the farmer's own land, from higglers or by
scavenging in nearby wooded areas (Table 10).

Table 10. Sources of wood for farms in the sample.
Own land Scavenging Market
Number of farms 17 31 15
Percent of sample* 28.3 51.7 25
* Percentages total more than 100 because of multiple sources in the same household.

Agricultural inputs
Agricultural inputs are, of course, essential means of production for family income and they
receive priority in allocating cash resources just after food, water and fuel. The major inputs to
the agricultural system are seed, fertilizer, pesticides, labor and guinea grass. Guinea grass will
be discussed under 'crops grow'. The others we will treat here separately.

Traditionally, farmers 'washed' and saved their own seed or procured them from neighboring
farmers. This practice is becoming increasingly less common as improved varieties are

continually introduced and quality seed become more readily available in the market. There are
several farm stores, which sell quality seed, pesticides and chemical fertilizers, located
conveniently within the area. Improvement in the availability of quality seed has meant better
yields for farmers. Purchased seed, however, constitutes yet another demand on cash resources.

Animal manures are little used on vegetable crop land. To maintain the level of fertility
necessary for efficient production of vegetable crops, the farmers presently rely heavily on
chemical fertilizers purchased from the farm stores. Both seed and fertilizer are occasionally
made available to farmers in the area under certain government programs administered by the
Ministry of Agriculture Extension Service. These programs, however, are not continuous, nor
are they available to every farmer. The guinea grass which is used for mulching, also
contributes nutrients to the soil.

Pesticides used by the farmers are numerous and varied and are obtained by purchase from
the farm stores. This is a major expense for the farmers in the system. There has been little
progress toward integrated pest management.

Labor represents a major expenditure for all but the smallest farmers in the system. Labor is
usually procured on a daily-wage basis. In addition to a daily wage, the farmer is expected by
tradition to provide two or three meals to the laborer, depending on the length of the work day.
Formerly, especially on larger farms, meals were usually provided by 'bush cooking' in the
fields. Currently, however, it is more usual to provide meals from the farmer's kitchen or to pay
the laborer additional money for the purchase of meals.
The number of laborers and the extent of their employment varies widely from farm to farm.
Some farmers employ one or more laborers full-time while others employ one or more laborers
frequently (one or two days per week). Some farmers hire laborers but only during periods of
peak demand (weeding, harvesting and grass cutting).
The price of farm labor is increasing steadily while vegetable market prices are not. This
means that farmers must cut down on the amount of labor purchased or find ways to increase
efficiency to compensate for the higher cost. In addition to hired labor and the farmer's own
labor, family labor is used on 41.7 percent of the farms in the sample. A few farmers also have
cooperative (day for day) labor arrangements with other farmers (Table 11).

Table 11. Types of labor employed
Hired Labor Family Cooperative
Fulltime Frequent Occasional
Number of farmers 17 5 37 25 2
Percent of sample* 28.3 8.3 61.7 41.7 3.3

N Percentages total more than 100 due to multiple practices by the same farmer

Children' education
In the past, very few children from the farm families of South St. Elizabeth were educated
past the primary level. Education is increasingly seen by the farmers as the key to greater
economic opportunity and a better life for the children. Accordingly, many place a high
priority on providing for their offspring secondary and even higher levels of education. This is
all the more true because alternatives available earlier such as temporary or permanent
emigration to Panama, England, Canada and the United States have been sharply curtailed in
recent years. The cost of education places a major demand on family resources and may include
tuition, uniforms or other clothes, books, transportation, meals away from home and money for
school-related activities and field trips.

An important long-term goal for many farmers is procurement of a vehicle. Achieving this
goal is tantamount to reaching another level in farming success and efficiency. The first
vehicle for a farm family is usually a pickup truck or van. This vehicle serves not only as a
convenience for the farmer and family members, but greatly increases efficiency in
transporting farm inputs and household necessities such as purchased food, water and fuel.
Some farmers use a vehicle to produce income directly by transporting higglers and produce to
market or they benefit by swapping transportation for valuable commodities or services.
One of the most important advantages gained by procuring a vehicle is the ability to
transport one's own produce directly to market, increasing income potential by reducing middle-
man expenses. Some farmers with vehicles become higglers for their own produce only. Others
may buy produce from neighbors which they retail for additional profit.
The number of farmers in South St. Elizabeth who are able to afford vehicles is increasing.
The status of members of the sample with regard to vehicle ownership is presented in Table 12,

Table 12. Vehicle ownership and access to electricity
Vehicles Electricity
Number of farmers 16 41
Percent of sample 26.7 68.3

Farmers are conscious of the potential benefits of having electric power on the farm and in
the home. There are three important considerations with regard to gaining access to electricity.
First, there are still substantial areas within the South St. Elizabeth farming community to which
power lines have not yet been extended. It is reasonable to suppose that most of these areas will
have power lines within a few years but until such time, a number of farms are excluded from the
possibility of electric power usage.
Second, the wiring of a home and/or farm involves considerable expense as well as the
continuing cost of the power itself. This creates yet another demand on cash resources. Third,
while improving the family lifestyle and increasing efficiency in some areas of home and farm
management (lighting and pumping water, etc.) the presence of electric power in the home also
generates pressure to procure expensive electric appliances. Some farmers still consider the cost
of obtaining electric power too great to bear for the benefits obtained. Approximately two-thirds
of the farmers in the sample currently have electricity in the home (Table 12).

South St. Elizabeth is not as geographically isolated as it was in the past. Many of its residents
travel freely and the area, in turn. is visited constantly by people from the cities and from off the
island. This has generated considerable pressure for consumer purchases in the luxury category,
such as cameras, radios, stereos, television sets and VCRs.

As shown in the previous sections, demands on farmers' resources are considerable and are
growing. The vast majority of the income for farm families in South St. Elizabeth comes from the
sale of farm products, chiefly vegetables. There are, however, other important sources of
income. As previously mentioned, a number of farmers with their own transportation transport
their own and others' produce to market. A number of farmers and/or other household members
work off-farm for wages. Some provide farm labor for other farmers during their own slack
periods. Off-farm occupations for farm household members are many and varied. They include
cooking, baking, hairdressing, teaching, carpentry, higgling, agricultural extension, transport
for higglers, shopkeeping, music, insurance sales, dental technology, sewing, clerking, cleaning,
woodcarving, housepainting, fishing, factory work and contract work abroad. All of these were

represented in the sample and there are others which were not. Table 13 shows the frequency of
off-farm employment for farmers and household members in the sample.

Table 13. Off-farm employment
Household members 1 Family Farmer and 1 2 or more
employed None Farmer member family member family members

Number of farms 24 13 7 10 6
Percent of sample 40 21.7 11.7 16.7 10

In addition to sales of farm products, some families are recipients of an influx of cash or goods
from family members residing outside the area, especially those working overseas. These
absent family members also sometimes contribute cash for building or for additional land
purchase. Some farmers and farm household members receive pensions earned abroad or
from jobs with the Jamaican Government or private industry.

The shift in crops produced, noted earlier, has resulted in a different mix of crops in the
area. Traditional root crops and tree crops still make up a significant proportion of the crops
grown for market. These crops, however, are increasingly maintained primarily for household
consumption (kitchen crops). The most important market crops in the current system are the
intensively grown vegetable crops. The key to their production in this climate is mulching
with guinea grass.

Guinea grass
In describing the farming system of South St. Elizabeth, it is difficult to decide where to place
the discussion of the role of guinea grass (Paicum maximum). We are placing it under crops
produced because of its role as the most important single crop in the system.
The functions of guinea grass are many and crucial. Used as a mulch, its most important
contribution is the conservation of soil moisture. It also plays an important role in moderation
of soil temperature increases, weed control, minimizing soil erosion and adding nutrients to the
soil. It lessens 'ground rot' in crops like tomatoes and melon by protecting the fruit from direct
contact with the soil. A disadvantage is the harboring of certain pests ( slugs, grasshoppers
etc.) and certain diseases which would be susceptible to the effects of the sun (Suah, 1985).
Guinea grass is an important cash crop for a few farmers and is also sold from time to time
by many other farmers. It is an important part of the cropping cycle as the principal cover
crop during fallow periods. In most areas, when not planted in crops, fields are seeded
voluntarily by guinea grass but farmers sometimes sow grass seeds to insure a good cover. A
few farmers fertilize the guinea grass for faster production but this is not the usual practice.
Guinea grass is also an important source of animal feed in South St. Elizabeth.
Farmers with access to sufficient land use guinea grass as a regular part of the crop rotation,
growing as much as they need for mulching their other crops. Farmers with more land than
they can manage in vegetable production or with land too steep or rocky, frequently keep such
land in guinea grass and sell the surplus periodically. Many farmers lack enough land to
produce sufficient guinea grass for mulching their vegetable crops. These farmers find it
necessary to purchase grass from time to time. Among the farmers in the sample, 61.7 % grow
all of their grass for mulching, 8.3 % buy all of their grass, while 30% grow part and buy part
(Table 14). Four of the farmers (6.7% of the sample) grow enough for their own use and also
sell some to other farmers.
If a source of grass exists sufficiently close to the farm, the farmer may purchase it in the field,
cut it and transport it by hand. More frequently, it is necessary to purchase from some distance
away and to rent a truck or to pay a truck owner to transport the grass to the field. Labor for
cutting grass is usually purchased by the farmer or truck owner. Grass cutting is considered
more difficult and unpleasant than other types of farm labor and commands a higher wage.

Table 14. Source of guinea grass for mulching.
Grow all Grow and Buy Buy all

Number of farmers 37.0 18 5.0
Percent of sample 61.7 30 8.3

Cash crops
The most important cash crops for the South St. Elizabeth farmer today are fresh vegetables.
Of the thirteen parishes in Jamaica, St. Elizabeth ranks first in agricultural acreage reaped and
third in total agricultural production by weight, accounting for approximately 11.5 % of the
total production of the island. For fresh vegetables, St. Elizabeth accounts for approximately
27% of the total production for the island (Staff. 1989). Table 15 lists crops grown for market
by the farmers in our sample, along with the numbers and percentages of the farmers who
grow each crop.

Table 15. Crops grown for market.

Number of r of Number of 2 of
Crop farmers Samole Crop farmers Sample

Escallion* 60 100.0 B. Cassava 10 16.7
Tomato 44 73.3 Yam 8 13.3
Carrot 31 51.7 6ungo Pea 7 11.7
Watermelon 27 45.0 Cucumber 6 10.0
Onion 24 40.0 Thyme 6 10.0
S. Pepper 18 30.0 S. Potato 5 8.3
Red Pea 12 20.0 Hot Pepper 4 6.7
S. Cassava 11 18.3 Pumpkin 4 6.7

100X of farmers in the sample grow escallion because this was a criterion
for selection.

In addition to the crops in the table, each of the following crops was grown for market by
one or two farmers in the sample: cabbage. Lima beans, cauliflower, broccoli, peanuts, beet
root, garlic, grape, sweet sop. sour sop, banana, papaya and cantaloupe. Another very important
crop for St. Elizabeth is peanut, but they are mainly grown outside our immediate area of study.
The number and percentage of farmers growing escallion within the sample is artificially
high for the area because growing escallion for market was a criterion for selection to our
study. Nevertheless, a very high proportion of South St. Elizabeth farmers include escallion in
their market crops. Escallion occupies a unique niche in the crop mix of the South St. Elizabeth
farmer. There are several reasons for this. First, once the planting is established, escallion
produce continually without further seeding since it is only partially harvested and the
remaining bulbs reproduce themselves. Second, since the plants are relatively small, they
require less volume of fertilizer and pesticides than most other vegetables, so input costs are
relatively low. Third, it survives drought well once established and following rainfall grows
quickly, producing a marketable crop earlier than any other vegetable. Finally, it has the
potential to produce income year round. To some degree, this is at the discretion of the farmer.
A well- mulched escallion field can produce a marketable crop every four to eight weeks, year
round except during the harshest of droughts. The only problem with escallion as a cash crop is
that periodically prices fall so low as to make it uneconomical to harvest. Sometimes these
unfavorable market conditions persist for a number of weeks.

Subsistence crops
In addition to the crops grown primarily for market, farmers generally grow other crops
intended for household consumption and for sharing with extended family and friends. These
'kitchen' crops are not commonly sold unless market conditions for the particular crop become
so favorable as to make it irresistible. The mix of market and kitchen crops varies from farm to

Vegetables. vine crops and legumes
Table 16 lists vegetables, vine crops and legumes grown by various farmers within the sample
solely for subsistence, together with the number of farmers and percentage of the sample who
grow each. Any crop grown for both market and subsistence by any individual farmer is
counted as a market crop for that farm. The table indicates the number of farmers who grow the
crop for the table only. In addition to those listed in Table 16, the following vegetables were
grown for kitchen purposes by only one or two farmers in the sample: thyme, cucumber.
broccoli, sweet pepper, lettuce, cauliflower, eggplant and spinach.

Table 16. Subsistence crops
Croo of Farmers
Pumpkin 27
Red Pea 14
Sweet Potato 14
Corn 14
Lima Bean 13
Gungo Pea 12

(kitchen) vegetables, vine crops and legumes
Percent Crop of Farmers Percent
45.0 Green Bean 9 15.0
23.3 Okra 8 13.3
23.3 Calaloo 6 10.0
23.3 Watermelon 5 8.3
21.7 Cabbage 5 8.3
20.0 Chayote 4 6.7

Tree crops ad traditonal root crops
In the past, root crops and tree crops, especially fruits and pimento (allspice), were of
paramount importance as market crops in the area. Most of these crops are still grown but
increasingly they fulfill the role of subsistence crops. For instance, most families grow cassava
and yam for their own consumption even if they do not include these in the crops they grow for
market. The same is true of a number of fruits. Table 17 lists tree crops and traditional root
crops grown for subsistence only by farmers in the sample, along with the number of farmers
and percentage of the sample for each crop. In addition to the crops listed, the following were
grown by only one or two farmers in the sample: plum, guava, coffee, tangerine, pineapple.
star apple and sugar cane.

Table 17.

Sweet Cas
Sweet Sop
Sour Sop
Bitter Cas

Subsistence crops (kitchen)- tree crops and traditional root crops
Number Number
of Farmers Percent Crop of Farmers Percen
49 81.7 Cocoa 9 15.0
37 61.7 Breadfruit 7 11.7
sava 27 45.0 Orange 7 11.7
27 45.0 Lime 6 10.0
18 30.0 Cherries 5 8.3
18 30.0 Grapefruit 4 6.7
18 30.0 Almond 4 6.7
17 20.3 Nelsberry 3 5.0
16 26.7 Guinepe 3 5.0
16 26.7 rape 3 5.0
sava 15 25.0 Tobacco 3 5.0
te 12 20.0


A few farmers in South St. Elizabeth specialize but most grow a variety of crops which helps
to reduce risk of failure due to natural disasters (drought, storms, flooding), pest infestations or
poor market conditions. Those who specialize tend to be the ones with substantial sources of
outside income. The mean number of total crops grown per farmer in the sample was 12.8, for
market crops 4.8 and for subsistence crops 8.0 (Table 18).

Table 18. Numbers of different crops grown by individual farmers in sample.
All crops Market Kitchen*

Mean 12.8 4.8 8.0
Median 13 4 8
Range 1 to 23 1 to 14 0 to 18

SCrops grown for both market and subsistence are included under market crops. Kitchen
crops are those grown for subsistence only.

Most farm households keep one or more animals. The animals are usually few in number and
are most commonly goats and/or swine. Other animals sometimes kept are fowl, cattle and
occasionally sheep or a donkey (Table 19). Ruminants are usually tied on fallow land or
roadside areas to graze and are moved periodically. Swine may be tied or penned. Fowl are
sometimes penned and sometimes are allowed to roam in the yard.

Table 19. Livestock maintained.
Goats Swine Fowl Cattle Sheep Donkey
Number of farmers 41 24 14 12 3 1
Percent of sample 68.3 40 23.3 20 5 1.7

Livestock and cropping systems are weakly linked. Animal manures are seldom spread on
fields under vegetable cultivation and crop residues are not usually fed to the animals. The
chief exception is guinea grass which is sometimes fed to livestock. Some farmers grow a small
portion of their animal feed in crops such as corn or calaloo. However, the bulk of feed for
animals (except for grass) is invariably purchased from the farm stores in the area. Animals
add their manure to the soil during times when they are tied in fallow fields.
Animals in the system are occasionally slaughtered for food but are usually used as a source of
ready cash and are sold on the hoof. We did not encounter any family which kept goats or cows
for milk. Dairy products are purchased, usually at local shops or supermarkets in the towns. A
few farmers with small children in the household keep chickens for eggs. but most who keep
chickens, use or sell them for meat. An interesting linkage between the cropping system and
the animal system is the practice of 'fly penning' which will be discussed in the section on
cultural practices.

Cultural practices in South St. Elizabeth vary considerably from location to location,
especially at different altitudes. They also vary from farmer to farmer. They vary according to
altitude, slope of the fields, microvariations in the soil, farmer's cash flow situation, different
diffusion domains, influence of input salesmen, crop grown, family traditions and individual
farmer preferences. Nevertheless, because they are responsive to the demands of the grass
mulch technology, they have certain things in common. We will discuss them only briefly

Crop rotation
A traditional and effective crop-rotation system has been practiced in South St. Elizabeth for
many years. It involves minimum tillage and spreading of thick mulch. This is followed by a
crop requiring thick mulch such as tomato, then by one needing less mulch such as sweet
pepper, onion or thyme. The next stage in the cycle was cassava and gungo pea (pigeon pea-a
legume) and finally guinea grass (Suah, 1985). Increasingly, farmers are bypassing the
cassava and gungo pea cycle, relying on chemical fertilizers to supply the extra nitrogen
required by the vegetable crops. Cassava and gungo pea are still seen but in smaller quantities
than before, most often as windbreaks or field borders, sometimes along with corn. Guinea
grass remains an important part of the crop rotation both because it is needed for mulching
other crops and because it improves the soil structure. Farmers will often tell you that they
grow guinea grass to 'bring back the land'. It provides an effective cover crop for fallow
periods. It has multiple uses and is easy to maintain.

Land preparation
Land preparation in South St. Elizabeth is by minimum tillage except for two crops, carrot and
peanut. For these crops, the land is plowed before planting, usually with a hired tractor. There
is some minimal use of animal traction in the area but we did not see any during our eleven
months among the farmers. Tillage for other crops is usually accomplished with a cutlass
(machete) or other hand tools by 'juking' a hole at intervals in the row in which to place the
seed or transplant.

Fly penaiag
A practice long associated with grass mulch farming in South St. Elizabeth is 'fly penning',
the use of a cow or donkey to provide soil compaction and add manure to the soil prior to crop
emergence. This is an old practice and has been described elsewhere (Eyre, 1972; Daisley. 1982)
This practice continues today although not among all farmers. Since chemical fertilizers are
now in general use, the farmers are not particularly concerned with the addition of manure .
Farmers invariably say that the animal is tied on the land 'to make the land firm' and that
certain crops such as escallion 'don't like loose land'. This is at first difficult to understand for
the Florida farmer who thinks in terms of the advantages of soil with good 'tilth'. In the dry
conditions that prevail in South St. Elizabeth, however, it makes sense. The more the loose
bauxitic soils are compacted, the less moisture is lost by evaporation. Thus mulching and fly
penning work together to conserve enough moisture to make a crop.
Either a cow or a donkey may be used. Farmers prefer to use a donkey if available. This is
probably because of the advantageous shape of the donkey's hoof as opposed to the cloven hoofs
of the bovine. Some farmers also attribute to the practice of fly penning a reduction in the
number of 'maccacou' (cutworms or grubs). One farmer, however, attributed this to the
donkey's urine and stated that a cow would not work for this purpose.

Mulching may be done after planting or planting may be done through mulch that is already
spread, depending on the crop planted, seed availability and other factors. The grass is laid in
bundles parallel to the rows and spread to cover the ground evenly.
Although attempts have been made to evaluate the effectiveness of mulching at different
rates (t/ha)(Daisley et al, 1988), the thickness of mulch is difficult to quantify or describe for
several reasons. First, there is a wide variation among different farmers in the length of time
that the grass is allowed to dry between cutting and application. Some prefer to lay the grass
green so that it will 'sweat the soil' (add its moisture). Others prefer various periods for drying,
citing ease of handling (less weight for an equal thickness of mulch), less cost for
transportation and in the belief that the dried grass rots more slowly. This is not only a
difference between individual farmers but also depends, to some extent, how dry conditions are
at the time the mulch is applied. Second, the thickness of the mulch decreases from the time it

is first laid throughout the season as it decomposes. Third, the farmers in the hottest zones near
sea level tend to lay mulch much more thickly for the same crop than those located in the
cooler zones at higher altitudes. Finally, each crop requires its own thickness of mulch at a
given altitude, not measured, but seemingly known intuitively by the farmers.
The mulch is replaced whenever the farmer perceives that it has become too thin to 'hold the
moisture' or as soon thereafter that he can procure sufficient grass. In the case of short-season
crops, there may be several pisnting cycles without replenishing the mulch but with longer-
season crops such as escallion, the mulch may be replenished several times without replanting.
Grass for mulching is usually cut by machete but sometimes with a scythe or sickle. A good
reaper can cut approximately one acre in two to three days (Suah, 1985).

Crops which are set in the fields as transplants such as tomato, pepper and thyme are started
from seed in small nurseries often located close to the tank or other source of water. Each
farmer usually keeps his own nursery and purchase of transplants is rare, though the practice
of sharing plants with neighbors or family members is common.

Methods ofplantiag
Seed are frequently 'washed' and saved for the following planting. Most seed, however, are
purchased from the farm stores in the area. Occasionally, seed can be acquired through
commercial companies such as seed companies or processing firms. All planting that we
witnessed was done by hand. Transplanted or large-seeded crops are planted in rows which
may be laid out with string. They are usually planted through mulch which has already been
spread. Small-seeded crops such as onion and carrot are sowed by scattering the seed on the
prepared field and the surface layer of the soil is agitated with machetes, brush brooms or other
implements to cover the seed before the mulch is spread.

Time ofplanting
As in all dry-weather rainfed farming, timing is critical. It is crucial to financial success to
make an early crop before prices fall. Therefore, farmers engage in a guessing game as to
when the rains will come. In South St. Elizabeth, peak planting periods are just before the two
major rainy seasons which begin in September and April, respectively. Outside of these two
peak periods, farmers endeavor to anticipate unseasonable rainfall which will enable them to
make a crop at a time when prices are high. Some of them are surprisingly proficient at this.
One farmer told us "no matter how dry it is, if you see me plant it will rain within two days." We
witnessed this on two occasions during the dry seasons.

Soil conservation
Almost no specific soil conservation practices such as contour planting, terracing, grassed
waterways, etc. are practiced in South St. Elizabeth. Planting is usually up and down slopes for
easier weeding and mulching, yet the fields are reasonably well preserved. This is because of
the guinea grass, both growing and spread on the fields, which does much to protect the soil
from winds and water runoff. It increases water absorption by slowing its initial flow. It also
reduces surface flow by catching some of the water during heavyrains. This is effective in
reducing erosion. Nevertheless, there is a need for a soil conservation program in the area.
During periods of intense rainfall, the roads of South St. Elizabeth run red with bauxite laden
water. If it is pointed out to farmers that this is their topsoil flowing to the sea, they agree that
something needs to be done, yet the practices remain the same.

Prior to planting a new field in vegetables, the land is weeded by machete, cutting weed and
grass roots alike below the soil surface. Guinea grass may be left in the area as mulch or
carried to nearby fields. Weed residues are usually burned. Once a field is in vegetable
production, the guinea grass mulch serves to reduce greatly the amount and frequency of

weeding required. This saving of labor helps to compensate for the additional labor required in
the system for cutting, transporting and spreading the grass. When weeding becomes
necessary in a mulched plot, it is also done using a machete, the blade of the 'cutlass' being
inserted under the grass and the weeds severed below the soil surface. Additional hired labor is
often utilized during this phase of cultivation.

As previously mentioned, manures are not applied directly to vegetable plots. Rather,
farmers rely on crop rotation, fly penning and the nutrients contributed by decomposition of
the guinea grass, well supplemented with purchased chemical fertilizers to maintain the
fertility of the soil.

Fertilizer rates
The rate of chemical fertilizers applied varies with the crop, the farm's location within the
area, the farmer's resources and the farmer's perception of the field's state of fertility and/ or
the health of the crop. In our sample of sixty farms, farmers' practices in fertilizing escallion
varied from that of one farmer who applied fertilizer at a rate of more than 2000 lbs. per acre to
another who had maintained her 'garden' for years without ever having applied any fertilizer.

Fertilizer analysis
Many of the farmers are only vaguely aware of the significance of fertilizer analysis and
admit to buying the cheapest bag available at the local farm store. Several farmers told us 'it
makes no difference which one you buy, they're all good'. Others are quite sophisticated, using
high-analysis fertilizers to get 'more nutrients for the dollar'. In general, fertilizer analysis
seems to be more a matter of tradition within a community or diffusion domain than of the
requirements of a specific farmer's soil. For example, farmers at the eastern end of our area of
study near Bull Savanna predominantly use fertilizer with an analysis of 6-18-27 and this
fertilizer is heavily stocked in the farm store there. At the opposite end near Flagaman, almost
all of the farmers use a fertilizer with an analysis of 12-24-12 and this fertilizer is heavily
stocked in the farm stores there. Neither soil analysis nor discernible economic factors account
for this difference.
We were puzzled by the prevalent use of low nitrogen fertilizers (6-18-27, 7-14-14) on short-
season crops in an area with generallylow to medium soil nitrogen levels. A conversation with a
representative of Antilles Chemical Company seems to provide the answer. The company
compounds and wholesales most of the chemical fertilizers sold on the island. Low-nitrogen
fertilizers are compounded for long-season crops, such as pineapple, and sold to growers with
the recommendation that the nitrogen be added as ammonium sulfate in divided applications.
These fertilizers, however, are distributed to retailers all over the island, according to demand.
Because of low nitrogen content, these fertilizers are the least expensive for sale in the farm
stores. Farmers tend to buy these fertilizers because of their price, but are not given the
recommendation for supplemental nitrogen. Therefore, the total nitrogen application is
insufficient, especially for those farmers whose soils contain low levels of indigenous or residual
nitrogen. This may be an area which can be improved by extension efforts. A few farmers
already use supplemental nitrogen applications. Of the sixty farmers in our sample, seven
(11.7%) reported using ammonium sulfate in supplemental applications in addition to their basic
Frequency and method ofapplication
The time of fertilizer application varies depending on the crop grown, the condition of the
market, the location of the farm and the financial situation and the personal preferences of
the individual farmer. In general, short-season crops such as tomato and carrot are fertilized
once at the time of planting. A few farmers apply supplemental nitrogen after plantings are

established. It is not unusual to plant a second short season crop in the same field without
additional fertilizer, relying on residual nutrients from fertilizer applied to the previous crop.
For long-season crops such as escallion, fertilizing is usually done at intervals from six months
to two years, depending on the farmer. Fertilizer is often applied at the time of fresh grass
-mulch application.
For seeded crops, application is usually by broadcast although some farmers band beside the
rows. For transplanted crops, fertilizer is usually placed 'in the hole' below the plants at the
time of planting. Care is required in this procedure and some farmers hesitate to use hired
labor for fear of 'burning' the young transplants.

Pest control
Integrated pest management is not practiced in South St. Elizabeth. Pesticides are applied to
crops in great quantity and variety, including insecticides, fungicides, miticides, bactericides,
herbicides and slugocides. During rainy periods, the farmer has to 'live in the field' with his
sprayer. Spraying is usually done in high volume using mist blowers, without the benefit of
masks or other protective equipment. The pest population cycles in South St. Elizabeth appear
to constitute a vicious circle. Increased spraying leads to resistance in pests and reduces the
number of predators. This, in the long term, leads to increased numbers of pests which in turn
motivates farmers to increase spraying. Many farmers told us that in their fathers' or
grandfathers' time, when pesticides were not available, a good crop could be made with little
pest damage while now it is 'impossible to make a crop' without the spray.
A broad range of pesticides with various degrees of toxicity is available to the Jamaican
farmer, including some which are banned from use in the United States. IPM would seem to be
an area of great promise for. improvement through research and extension. Any success
achieved would bring long-term benefits to the small farmer by reducing costs of pesticides and
labor, as well as reducing environmental pollution and eliminating health hazards to
consumers, farm workers, farmers and their families.

Harvesting in South St. Elizabeth is done almost entirely by hand. Storage is only for very
brief periods while awaiting transport to market. Additional labor is often hired when a large
crop is to be harvested. Crops which have to be prepared for market such as escallion
(stripping) and red peas (threshing) are usually prepared in shaded areas adjacent to the field
or by the homestead. Harvest is sometimes delayed for such underground vegetables as
escallion, carrot and sweet potato to await better market prices.


The infrastructure available to support the small farmer in South St. Elizabeth can be
described as a mixed bag. Some parts of it are quite adequate, whereas other parts need
considerable strengthening.

Ultimate markets for South St. Elizabeth produce exist at several levels. Supermarkets within
the region buy and resell a small amount of the farmers' produce. Each town or village in the
area has a curbside or roadside market. Except for the market at Junction, these are quite small
and are open only on certain days of the week. There are larger markets at Black River.
Mandeville, Brownstown and Savanna-la-Mar. Much produce from South St. Elizabeth finds its
way to these markets as well as to the supermarkets and large outdoor market in Kingston.
Additionally, a certain amount of the produce is purchased by the tourist industry, especially
the hotels on the north coast. Schools and shops buy escallion, etc. for making 'patties', meat
pies which are a favorite convenience food of Jamaicans.

The role ofthe higglfr
The term 'higgler' originally referred to the Jamaican market woman (or man) but has been
expanded to include peddlars at all levels (Senior. 1987) The origins and characteristics of the
Jamaican higgler system have been studied and described often and will not be treated here in
any detail. We will merely try to describe the relationship between the higgler and the South
St. Elizabeth vegetable farmer.
The higgler is the linchpin of the market system. She (or he) is everywhere; helping the
farmer to harvest, stripping the vegetables in the fields, transporting to the various markets
and often selling directly to consumers. The higgler has been much maligned for profiteering
and taking advantage of the limited options of the farmer. It is difficult to see, however, how
the many functions of the higgler could be accomplished at less cost. If attempts are made to
establish a central marketing system foc produce in Jamaica, it would probably be well to
protect the status of the higgler.
A symbiotic relationship and a healthy respect exist between the higgler and the farmer.
While some farmers sell to any higglei who comes to buy when the crop is ready, others sell
only to a select few higglers who can thus be sure of finding produce when it is scarce. They,
in turn, provide a more or less guaranteed market for the farmer's crops in times of plenty.
Some farmers or their family members act as higglers, taking the crops to market and selling
them there either wholesale or retail (Table 20).

Table 20. Marketing of produce.
Higglers Trucks to Trucks and sells
come in market to higglers
Number of farmers 44 6 10
Percent of sample 73.3 10 16.7

Vegetables for processing
There is a cannery at Bull Savanna which includes some vegetables, notably tomatoes, among
the products that it processes. This would seem to present another viable market for the
farmers' products. The problem is that although the plant has been in place for about 50 years,
it has been out of service for much of that time due to management problems. There have been
a number of false starts in reopening the plant. Farmers in the area have been encouraged to
grow processing tomatoes for purchase 4by the plant but they have become leary because at
times, when the crop was in, the plant was not operating. The farmer was then left with
processing tomatoes which the higglers would not buy for the fresh market. If management
and supply problems can be overcome, the cannery could make an important additional market
for South St. Elizabeth farmers.
A large portion of the carrots grown in South St. Elizabeth are sold for processing into juice.
For this reason, many of the carrots grown are large varieties not ideal for table use but
yielding more pounds per acre.
The Grace Company, an important food processor in Jamaica, has for a number of years been
contracting with growers of pineapple and other fruits, guaranteeing purchase of the crop and
providing credit for inputs. Very recently they have begun a program to contract with South
St. Elizabeth farmers for growing tomatoes. If this program is successful, it could be extended to
other vegetables.

PurcEhasi g
Sources of purchased commodities and farm inputs have been described in previous sections
and will not be treated separately here.

The aiformal economy
No discussion of markets for South St. Elizabeth products would be complete without mention
of the extensive informal ('underground') economy. Statistics on economic factors in South St.
Elizabeth can be no more than estimates because a very large quantity of goods and services

are exchanged without direct payment. No records are kept, nor can the extent of these
transactions be accurately measured either by government or private agencies.
Transactions within the informal economy are rarely quid quo pro; rather, the system
functions through a general understanding that if one member of the community has a product
in excess and another has a genuine need, the product will be freely shared. This is especially
true of agricultural commodities and among extended families and close friends. It also extends
to other goods and services (such as transportation and sometimes labor) and to casual
acquaintances or even strangers. We received produce as gifts from many of the farms we
visited. Farmers also stopped by to leave us food from their fields and also from their neighbors'
fields. In the words of one farmer, "in St. Elizabeth, if we grow something and you don't have it,
we don't ask for money, we just give it." Upon observing one community member gleaning
escallion from a neighbor's field, we asked the owner of the field if he objected. His reply was
"if he comes in the day, I know he has need; if he comes in the night, I know he is a thief." In
this way, goods and services are exchanged, cash is not required and all members of the
community in good standing both contribute and are protected against severe want.

There is one central highway which traverses the area of study, roughly from east to west
and is part of the national highway system. It is paved and in generally good repair. This
highway connects the farms with the larger markets. Another road of comparable size and
condition connects Bull Savanna and Junction. A very extensive system of smaller roads
honeycombs the area. Many of these roads are paved and most are traversible by all types of
vehicles, at least in the dry season. These secondary and tertiary roads range very widely in
their condition and state of repair. From a comparative standpoint, the roads in this area are
very good for a rural section of a developing country, but more frequent repair is needed on
the secondary and tertiary roads.

Central storage facilities are lacking and storage capacity is generally limited to porches or
sheds or shaded areas on individual farms. This is not a serious problem since the vegetables,
which are the chief product, are largely shipped to market directly after harvest. For certain
crops such as onion and sweet potato, however, enhanced storage capability would have the
effect of spreading the season and gaining better market prices.
Most of the tomatoes grown in South St. Elizabeth are firm varieties such as M-16. selected for
their shipping qualities. Tomatoes with better table qualities ('salad') also do well in the area.
and command a much better price. Not many are grown because when picked ripe they are
easily damaged and there is too much loss from spoilage. If adequate storage facilities could be
built and managed close to major markets, table varieties such as Duke and Calypso could be
grown in greater quantities, picked mature-green and ripened in storage. Similar possibilities
exist with other vegetables to a lesser extent.

Primary and secondary schools are present within the area. There are also trade schools of
different types nearby. A government program for technical training of rural youth was very
popular but has been suspended. There are plans for reopening this program in the near
future. There are several colleges of good reputation which are not too distant.
A major problem with regard to education is the lack of transportation for school children.
Many children and youth have to walk or beg rides for long distances twice a day. This is very
time consuming and results in considerable danger to students, some of them small children,
since the roads are hilly, narrow and winding and carry much vehicular traffic. An expanded
school bus program is a priority need for farm families in the area.

Presently, there is no private telephone service in the area. There are coin telephone
booths at Bull Savanna, Junction and Southfield but these are difficult to use, often have long
waiting lines and are frequently out of service. A telephone exchange is being installed and
the waiting list for private telephones has been compiled.
Mail service is available through several post offices in the area. There is also a telegraph
service. Both of these media are slow, however, sometimes requiring several days to reach
Although most farm families lack their own transportation, there is a good system of public
and privately operated passenger vehicles connecting the area with other parts of the island, as
well as connecting different locations within the area. This system includes large and small
buses, minibuses, vans and taxis. Some farms, however, are at a considerable distance from
access points to the system. There are also individuals with trucks or vans who routinely
transport higglers or farmers with produce to and from market for a fee.

Electric power
In general, electric power is available throughout the area. There are still pockets, however,
which lack power lines, even along some of the larger roads. The cost may be prohibitive for
the poorest farmers.

Credit is generally unavailable to small farmers. A general practice is to keep one or a few
animals as a source of ready cash when needed. Some farmers can obtain credit from relatives
who work in the cities or abroad. There have also been government and commercial programs
which have included credit for inputs, but these are very limited. There is a branch bank at
Junction and a cooperative bank at Southfield and there are several commercial banks located
elsewhere in the parish. Most small farmers, however, lack sufficient credit standing or
collateral to obtain credit through these sources.

Research and extension
Research and extension in Jamaica have been conducted through the years by a number of
ever-changing groups and agencies, both public and private. Detailed descriptions of these
evolutions have appeared elsewhere (McDermott and York, 1987; Venezian eta..1988) and will
not be repeated here. We will confine ourselves to consideration of ongoing efforts as they
relate to the farmers of South St. Elizabeth.

Until recently, agricultural research in Jamaica was largely confined to that which was
deemed needed for larger operations, mainly dealing with export commodities, such as sugar,
bananas, cocoa and coffee. A recent development of potentially great importance to small
farmers resulted from USAID initiatives. This was the establishment of the Jamaica Agricultural
Research Program, under the auspices of the Jamaica Agricultural Development Foundation.
JARP was established in 1987. Stated among its objectives was the use of "criteria for selection
of specific commodities for concentrated research (which) will take into consideration the
priority needs of small farmers. .. (with) a provision for trials to be conducted on farmers'
fields" (Roache, 1987). In the short time since its inception, JARP has initiated a number of
research projects geared to the needs of small farmers, among them several directly concerned
with vegetable growing in South St. Elizabeth (including this project). Some research in
Ministry of Agriculture experiment stations is also concerned with commodities grown in South
St. Elizabeth, such as gungo (pigeon) peas.

The Ministry of Agriculture Extension Service is quite active in South St. Elizabeth. The
Executive Agricultural Officer for the parish of St. Elizabeth lives within the area and is
himself, a farmer there. There are several field districts within our area of study.
Organizationally, there is a position for a field extension officer in each district. The number of
positions, however, exceeds both the funding allotted and the number of qualified officers
available to fill them, so that there is considerable gapping of positions.
The extension officers assigned to the field are intelligent, well trained and enthusiastic.
They are also knowledgeable about farming and about the area. There are several problems,
however, which prevent them from being as effective as they could be. The first relates to the
low salary levels under the government's austerity program. This problem has been alluded to
in earlier reports ( McDermott and York, 1987). It continues and tends to fragment the efforts
of the short staff that is still available. All of the field officers that we met had at least one
additional job to supplement their incomes.
Second, overall funding levels are too low to accomplish the mission, resulting in inadequate
transportation and other support for field officers. Third, field officers are required to spend a
considerable portion of their time administering programs, compiling statistics and making
reports. This limits their opportunity for one-on-one contact with the farmers. Finally,
linkage with research is very weak. There is little feedback from farmers to researchers and, to
date, few direct efforts to test and evaluate the products in the farmers' fields.
On the positive side, the extension officers have a good rapport with the farmers and they
participate in a number of activities which benefit the farmer. We attended several field days
which were well attended by farmers. Two of these were held in conjunction with commercial
firms which deal in agricultural products. They are administering programs of field trials and
demonstration plots sponsored on local farms by seed distributors. The extension officers also
attend local branch meetings of agricultural societies and present lectures and demonstrations
on current agricultural topics. For various reasons, however, these efforts reach only a small
fraction of the farmers in the area. If an extension program is to be truly effective in South St.
Elizabeth, it will be necessary to devote substantial additional resources to the extension
program and to establish firmer linkage with research efforts.


In order to understand the contraints to the system productivity in South St. Elizabeth, it is
necessary to consider separately the constraints that are operating against the productivity of
the individual farmer and those that apply to the system as a whole.

The constraints to the individual farmer in South St. Elizabeth are essentially the same as
those which limit productivity of small farmers throughout the world. They include limited
access to the major means of agricultural production, i.e. land, labor and capital. Added to these
is the major constraint in arid and semi-arid areas, namely water for irrigation. There are
other constraints on the individual farmer's production which may operate as the limiting
factors in individual situations. These include, among others, education and management
expertise, social and political connections and last but by no means least, access to viable and
stable markets. We shall consider these separately.

Many individuals residing in the South St. Elizabeth area possess the knowledge and skills
required for agricultural production within the system. A number of them have access to little
or no land. They therefore farm part time on very small plots while relying on other sources
for most of their income or do no farming themselves but perform labor for hire on the land of

others. These individuals can certainly be considered largely constrained by access to land.
Most of the farmers, however, have or can obtain access to a quantity of land which is
commensurate with their ability to manage a farming enterprise.
In addition to restraints imposed by limited access to land, the poorest farmers are invariably
additionally constrained by land quality, their land being often located on steep slopes of stony
character and of relatively low fertility.
There is ample labor available to meet the requirements of the system as it currently exists in
South St. Elizabeth. Because of rising expectations and competition with alternative sources of
income, labor costs per man/day have recently undergone rapid increases in the area. This
constraint, however, can more accurately be described as a constraint of capital, rather than of
labor, per se.

Every small farmer in South St. Elizabeth can be said to be constrained by capital in that no
farmer is able to plant the optimum mix of crops or utilize the optimum mix of inputs for
maximum productivity because the risk involved would be unacceptable. In addition, those who
could approach these optimum practices would be able to increase productivity with additional
capital by means of expanding their land in production or hiring additional labor.
The poorer farmers within the system, however, suffer the effects of capital restraint at a
more basic level. If neither capital nor credit are available when needed, essential inputs such
as fertilizers or mulch, may be applied either later than needed or in reduced quantities, which
will result in lower yields, lower total production and reduced profit.

If you ask any farmer in South St. Elizabeth to name his biggest farming problem, he will
invariably cite lack of water. A typical comment is "if we only had the water, we could grow
more vegetables than Jamaica could eat." This statement is very true. If water for irrigation
were generally available, the productivity of each farmer would undoubtedly increase enough
to meet the off-season demands. Incentives for increased production, however, would be
significantly limited without market expansion because of the relative inelasticity of demand
with regard to price.

Theft from the fields has considerable impact on South St. Elizabeth farmers. The crops in
the fields tend to be safe as long as farmgate prices for vegetables remains low. When prices
rise, however, substantial theft from fields occurs. This is particularly galling to the farmer
because just when his crops achieve some value, he loses them through theft. This has an
enhanced negative impact on overall profit because the loss occurs exactly when profit margin
would have been highest. In addition, high prices result from low yields, so that stolen
quantities represent a higher proportion of the farmer's reduced crop. Theft also tends to
increase during the Christmas holiday season and farmers take extra precautions during this
The most pilferable of the vegetable crops grown in South St. Elizabeth is escallion because of
its ease of harvest and compactness for transport. An additional problem for the farmer when
escallion are stolen is that the thief removes the entire plant, necessitating replanting of the
field. Because of this threat, escallion are almost invariably planted close to the home for
greater protection.

Increasingly, in Jamaica as elsewhere, there is valuable information available to farmers in
written form. Such documents as extension bulletins, instructions and warnings from pesticide
labels, information on subsidy programs and planting or cultivation guides from seed
distributors require a higher level of education than has been achieved by many of the

farmers. Thus, low levels of education progressively act as a constraint on individual farmers
as available information increases.

Management expertise
Although every farmer is an expert on his own farm, many lack the training or experience
necessary for expansion and so are effectively locked into current levels of operation. This
constraint also applies to adopting new technology which is significantly different from
present practices, while maintaining an acceptable level of risk.

Social and political connections
From time to time there are programs of private or government initiative which involve
assistance to farmers and sometimes direct or indirect subsidies. These benefits tend to accrue
to a relatively small percentage of the farmers who are either well-connected or at least have
contacts that make them aware when benefits are available. In addition, projects such as piped
water for household use or extension of electric power lines tend to go to areas predominantly
populated by supporters of the political party in power at a given time. For this reason, simply
living in the 'wrong district' may act as a significant restraint until political power shifts.

The most important constraint and the one most difficult to deal with for the farmers in
South St. Elizabeth is the instability of prices and the inadequacy of the market for vegetables
during periods of high productivity. At times, this constraint makes all the others irrelevant.

When considering farm productivity in South St. Elizabeth, it soon becomes apparent that
some of the constraints on individual farmers do not operate or operate very weakly as
constraints against the productivity of the system as a whole. This is primarily because of the
inelasticity of the demand for the products. If most of the constraints discussed above were
removed, productivity would be increased relatively slightly because farm gate prices would
quickly fall below the levels necessary for incentive to produce. We will expand on this
observation by revisiting each constraint with regard to its effect on the total system.

Land does not really operate as a constraint to production in South St. Elizabeth. There is a
considerable quantity of arable land which is currently not in production. If there were
increased incentives to produce vegetables, there is little doubt that more of this land would be

Although farm labor is becoming scarcer in this area and has become more expensive, it still
seems to be available in sufficient amounts if there is cash to spend.

Capital is an effective constraint, primarily because greater access to capital would allow
increased risk-taking among farmers with marginal resources. Crop/input combinations could
be adopted which would have greater chance of failure but also greater potential for profit.
These would include higher-yielding varieties, cultivars which command higher prices but are
more prone to transportation and storage losses and greater use of fertilizers.

Lack of water is certainly a constraint to production because if water were available for
irrigation the harvest season would be greatly extended since planting could be done and would
not have to wait for rainfall. In addition, yields would be increased. Irrigation water for South
St. Elizabeth, however, would be a 'two-edged-sword' in that the resulting increase in
productivity would lead to depression of prices to the detriment of many farmers.

Theft of crops from the fields does not operate as a constraint on overall system productivity
because the produce eventually finds its way to the market.

Markets and market stability constitute by far the most significant constraints to the system
of production in South St. Elizabeth. On three separate occasions during our brief stay there,
the price of a major vegetable crop dropped so low that harvest was uneconomical. The crops
were removed and discarded or left to rot in the field. This problem is intensified by substantial
importation of vegetables, especially onions, under 'free trade' agreements. While these
agreements may constitute good national policy, they can sometimes be devastating to the small
There are a number of technological changes and infrastructure improvements which have
the potential for raising productivity. A number of these we have already discussed.
Nevertheless, without concomitant market expansion and improvement in market stability, it is
doubtful that any other changes could effect very great increases in productivity.

Other constraints
The other constraints on production by individual farmers mentioned above operate
collectively as a constraint on the system, but not in a major way. The ingenuity of the small
farmers and the traditional knowledge and experience they have acquired serve to compensate
for these to a large degree.


The Jamaican farmer has received a 'black eye' for comparatively low productivity (FAO
Report, 1984). We believe this evaluation is inaccurate for two important reasons. First, there
is very little formal record keeping on yields in South St. Elizabeth. Farmers are aware of
crops' success or failure both in agronomic and economic terms but seldom record or even
think in terms of tons per hectare or per acre. Many of the farmers we worked with did not
know the exact size of their fields. Yield data based on quantities sold are also not recorded and
would be inaccurate because of home consumption and produce expended via the informal
The more important reason is the waste caused by lack of incentive to produce due to market
failure. Since periods of very low prices alternate with periods of very low production caused
by severe drought, the farmer is caught in a two-way squeeze. Survival requires a precarious
balancing act which precludes major risk-taking or using the best technology available to him.
Given a stable market at reasonable price levels, perhaps supplemented with a little water for
irrigation, the South St. Elizabeth farmer is capable of increasing production very
substantially without other technological improvements.
Potential for market expansion and improved stability might lie first, in upgrading the
efforts to maintain the canning plant at full capacity on a continuing basis. Along the same
lines, direct cooperation (such as contracts for growing vegetables) between the farmers and
the food processing companies should be encouraged.

Second, because Jamaica lies relatively close to the eastern U. S. markets, it should be possible
for Jamaica to capture a portion of the U. S. winter vegetable market which (excluding South
Florida production) was previously supplied by Cuba and is currently dominated by Mexico.
A third possible approach to market improvement would be establishment of a central
marketing system which might make delivery to the consumer more efficient and thus increase
overall demand, especially during times of plentiful production. We reiterate our concern,
however, that the interest of the higgler and those involved in the current system of
distribution should be safeguarded in any such effort. Because of the many functions which
they perform, their replacement, should they be forced out of business, would be extremely
difficult to achieve and very expensive. Additionally, the close relationship which currently
exists between the higglers and the small farmers would be lost, perhaps to farmers' detriment.
The problem of competition with imported vegetables may be intensified when production of
those imports is subsidized directly or indirectly by exporting governments. Targeted subsidies
for Jamaican vegetable products, especially those in competition with farm imports, might help
to alleviate this problem and lead to greater productivity by increasing incentives for
Jamaican vegetable farmers.
If no improvement in market conditions for vegetable products is made, there are still certain
steps which can lead to some increase in productivity and improve the lot of the small farmer,
increasing his chances of remaining in production. These consist primarily in reducing
constraints through infrastructure and technology improvements. Obviously, the most direct
means of abetting the farmers' efforts through improved infrastructure lies in the provision of
water for irrigation. As previously noted, however, this would have to be approached with
extreme caution because of potential adverse effects on the market. For long term benefit,
resources for infrastructure improvement should be focused on continuing educational
improvements so that farmers will not be overwhelmed as agricultural technology and
communication evolve.
Efforts to improve technology until the market can be expanded should be concentrated in
areas that can lead to increased production during the driest periods (such as drought resistant
varieties) and types of pest management [IPM] which will tend to reduce pest populations on a
long-term basis with less expenditure and greater safety for the farmer and the environment.


The farming system which has evolved in South St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, is described. The
system features intensive cultivation of vegetable crops in an area of high temperatures, brisk
prevailing winds, and limited and seasonal rainfall. Farmers accomplish this by mulching
their crops with guinea grass (Panicum maximum) to conserve moisture and reduce soil
temperature. Data were collected by soil and field measurements from a sample of sixty farms,
coupled with extensive informal interviews with the farmers. These data were supplemented
by information from numerous additional farm visits and discussions with farmers, higglers,
shopkeepers and agricultural extension personnel in the subject area. The authors have added
their own observations and conclusions based on their experiences during an eleven-month
stay in the area, growing their own crops and constantly interacting with local farmers. The
chief constraints to productivity are identified as inelasticity of demand and a limited and
unstable market. Priorities are suggested for initiatives to achieve higher productivity while
emphasizing goal realization for the farm family.

Note: Opinions and conclusions contained in this article are solely those of the authors and
should not be construed as representing the views of the Jamaica Agricultural Research
Program, the Jamaica Agricultural Development Foundation or the University of Florida.

Literature Cited

Brown, Philbert. National Meteorogical Service, Jamaica. Unpublished data. July, 1990.

Daisley, L.E. A. Final Report on Small Farm Systems 1978-1980. CARDI. Feb. 1982.

Daisley, L.E.A., S. K. Chong. F.J. Olsen, L. Singh and C. George. Effects of surface-applied grass
mulch on soil water content and yields of cowpea and eggplant in Antigua. Trop. Agri.(Trinidad)
Vol. 65, No. 4. Oct. 1988.

Davis, Malcolm S., Steve Kostewicz and Peter Hildebrand. Effects of guinea grass mulch on soil
conditions in intensive vegetable production in a semi-arid tropical region of Jamaica. 1991.
Unpublished data.

Eyre, L. Alan. Geographic Aspects of Population Dynamics in Jamaica. Florida Atlantic University
Press. 1972.

FAO Production Yearbook. Vol. 38. FAO/Rome. 1984.

McDermott, Kenneth and E. T. York. Jamaica agricultural institutions and recommendations for
improvement. USAID report. Univ. of Fl. Gainesville. 1987.

Montague, Mervyn. Ministry of Agriculture Extension Office. St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. Personal
Communication. Aug. 1989.

Reed, Denslie. Ministry of Agriculture. Farm report. 1982.

Roache, Keith. Priority research areas for Jamaica Agricultural Research Program. JAGRIST.
JADF. Kingston Vol. 1. No.2, pp 113-14. 1988.

Senior, Olive. A-Z of Jamaican Heritage. Heinemann Educational Books Ltd/Gleaner Co. Ltd.
p77. 1987.

Staff. Data Collection & Statistical Branch. 1989. Comparative estimate of all-island domestic
crop production and acreage reaped. 1988-1989. Ministry of Agriculture. Kingston, Jamaica.

Stark, J. S. Soil and Land Use Surveys. No. 14, Jamaica. Parish of St. Elizabeth. University of the
West Indies, Trinidad. Nov. 1963.

Suah, Joseph R. R. 1985. Mulching in a dry-farming system. CARDI Factsheet. No. A/F-5.85

Venezian, Eduardo Leigh, Dr. Alvaro Bueno and Dr. Herman Hamilton. Jamaica: reorganization
and strengthening of the agricultural research system. FAO report. Rome. 1988.

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