Words by Nneka Samuel

In the early days of the organic food movement, the “O” word was not only met with confusion, but equated with higher prices at the market. But organic food, a term that can refer to how food is grown, handled and processed, is not a ploy to take your hard earned money. Rather, it is a means by which famers and consumers alike can respectively grow and eat safer, healthier produce. By employing environmentally-friendly farming methods specifically designed to reduce pollution and conserve soil and water, the organic movement is growing year by year and will undoubtedly play a role in the future of Caribbean agriculture. Just ask the Jamaica Organic Agriculture Movement (JOAM).

Established in 2001, JOAM is a volunteer-run, non-governmental organization aimed at facilitating the development of an organic sector that is sustainable and economically viable, while maintaining organic integrity, promoting health, social responsibility and environmental consciousness.

A 2013 recipient of the Jamaica Environment Trust’s Environmental Action Award, JOAM continues the work of the now defunct Jamaica Growers Association. JOAM describes organic agriculture as a harmonious system involving “intimate interactions between human beings, animals, plants and the soil.” Early in its founding, JOAM developed an organic farming handbook, as well as an ever-growing list of standards for organic processing and handling that meet international guidelines. JOAM’s work is carried out via an executive body and by regional group members.

Of particular importance to organic agriculture, is certification by accredited inspectors. This process allows produce to be specially labeled as organic and thanks to nationally set standards, protects consumers from misleading or deceptive labeling. This opens access to markets that require regulatory mandates. In turn, these standards and practices aid in Jamaica’s effort to become a more self-sufficient nation. In a 2014 interview with Modern Farmer, Jamaica’s Agriculture Minister, Roger Clarke, stated that Jamaica imports nearly $1 billion U.S. dollars in food each year. Some of the imported items include pineapple, ginger and, onions – crops that can be easily grown on Jamaican soil. Contrarily, the country exports only $250 million worth of food. In addition to the rising costs of imported foods, this equation is not financially sustainable. Relying on foods from foreign countries suffering from the damaging effects of climate change, locales that are also susceptible to natural disasters, is not only costly but risky. Home grown, organic food can help to eliminate these impediments.

Though there has been a push in recent years for more farming in Jamaica with campaigns like Eat What You Grow – which encouraged people to buy more local food and to plant their own gardens – more cost-effective and time-considerate incentives are needed for local farming to flourish. This should include methods to modernize Jamaica’s farming sector.

Farm Up JamaicaTo meet these goals, JOAM partnered with Farm Up Jamaica, an agricultural initiative which aids farmers in growing certain organic crops in order to reduce importation, to help stabilize the Jamaican dollar and create jobs. It provides farmers with products as needed, such as seeds, equipment and storage facilities. Since its inception, JOAM has awarded numerous farms the certified organic label, including Marley Coffee, Woodford Market Garden and Rowan’s Royale, to name a few.

JOAM’s efforts have undoubtedly increased the production of organic produce in Jamaica. As membership continues to grow, awareness and training sessions will expand JOAM’s reach and message. With continued success, other Caribbean countries might follow in Jamaica’s organic footsteps.