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Spotlight on Jamaican Agriculture

Erin Byers, Leo Gayle, Ariel Best. Byers and Best are UT students. Gayle was a Jamaican liaison for the tripA coffee plantation. A bee research center. A cattle artificial insemination research center. A hot pepper field.

Visits to these places and more gave a group of University of Tennessee students a first-hand look at the agricultural industry of Jamaica.

In May 2006, a group of 11 UT students studying animal sciences, fisheries science, agricultural economics, engineering and tourism spent two weeks on the mountain island.

"The trip was organized and run by Professors Delores and Mike Smith and Rich Davis on UT's end, and several incredibly generous folks from Jamaica's Ministry of Agriculture, who worked hard to show us the Jamaica they were so proud of -- a beautiful country that produces some of the highest-quality agricultural products in the world," said Erin Byers, a senior in biosystems engineering, who went on the trip. "From produce to livestock, from the fields to the processing plants, from hourly wage earners to wide-scale economic impacts, we got to see every piece of the puzzle.

"We studied Jamaica's efforts to remain in the global market when other countries can produce more agricultural goods at lower cost, and how to best take care of the island's natural resources," Byers said. "Though Jamaicans may not have the funding and facilities to do broad research like we do in the U.S., they are able to perfect their own crops and methods."

The students visited several research institutions, including the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (www.cardi.org), where researchers develop chemical-free pest control and ways to turn banana and coffee production waste into nutrient-rich compost; the College of Agriculture Science and Education (www.case.edu.jm), where undergraduates conduct extensive research on experimental soil mixtures and hydroponics; and Bodles Agricultural Research Station, which houses a cattle artificial insemination facility, a bee research center and a field of hot peppers bred for resistance to tobacco virus. At the Ministry of Agriculture, the students heard presentations on globalization and sustainability.

"We saw the production side of several major Jamaican crops," Byers said. "The island's Blue Mountains region produces some of the finest coffee beans in the world. We hiked two miles up a steep mountain -- tough for us, life as usual for those who work there -- to see rows of coffee plants clinging to dramatic slopes. That afternoon, we saw the factory in town where the beans were dried, processed, sorted by hand and tested for quality. We began to realize how a pound of this coffee could cost $30. We also visited a banana farm, an ingenious facility where zip lines carried banana bunches to the washing and packing building. It gave a whole new meaning to the song, 'Come Mister tally man, and tally me banana—Daylight come and me wanna go home!'"

Local Culture

Byers said the trip also gave student the chance to experience local culture.

"In our travels across Jamaica, amidst the beautiful scenery, we saw the fairly rough environment many Jamaicans live in. Small houses made of sheet metal lined the winding roads, which in many places had broken away. To hear about international trade and economic troubles and then see its effects was very eye-opening. Still, the smells of spicy food and sounds of reggae from the smallest shacks showed us a great joy for life. In a way, there is a sense of bounty all Jamaicans share -- a bounty of sunshine, the warm ocean breeze and fruits growing wild year-round."

Byers said studying abroad can open a student's eyes to new things.

"It's like taking a class from your favorite professor who really encourages you to stretch your mind -- only instead of one professor, you learn from every person you meet, and every experience you have. We experienced the culture, learned some things about agriculture, and saw how delicate the economic balance between different parts of the world really is.

"The Caribbean has a lot to offer, and I especially recommend a trip like this if you have only seen the islands as a vacationer. Get out on the road, see the countryside, climb the mountains -- see the real Jamaica!"

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