Minister of Agriculture, Haynesley Benn

Efforts are on stream to establish an ultra-modern Bds$2 million farm at Her Majesty’s Prisons at Dodds, St. Philip, which when completed, will continue to help that institution to trim thousands of dollars from its food bill.

Minister of Agriculture, Senator Haynesley Benn, and a team of senior agricultural officials yesterday toured the expansive prison farm which is aimed at fostering self-sufficiency as well as providing training for inmates as part of its rehabilitation programme.

Reporting a “keen interest” among inmates working on the farm, Consultant to the Prison Farm, Ezra Devonish disclosed that some 40 acres of land was under cultivation at the farm, with sweet potatoes, cassava, pigeon peas and sorrel being among the crops grown. He noted that a small plot within the female inmate compound features a range of seasonings including parsley, thyme and chives; the latter was previously supplied to supermarkets.

According to Mr.Devonish, yams are expected to come on stream in January at the facility, which is already self-sufficient in pork, with some four large carcasses being slaughtered per week.

For the future, the Farm Consultant told members of the touring party that the completed project would see some 100 acres under production, with ten buildings to be constructed including a Black Belly Sheep Farm with 500 sheep; 50 beef; 50 dairy; a 30 pig/sow unit; a 30 unit rabbitry; 1,800 broilers every nine weeks and a multi-species abattoir.

Plans for the facility are currently with the Town and Country Planning Department, with the requisite Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Studies and Town Hall Meetings expected to take at least nine months.

 “I am very impressed with the layout of the facility, and I am now in a better position to support and advise,” Minister Benn told members of the media following an over two-hour long tour. “I would like to see the prison reach its objective to feed itself and they are on that path.”

Adding  that his Ministry intended to speak with  the Attorney General’s Office to discuss efforts to “take the project forward”, Senator Benn  offered  technical assistance from his  Ministry and pledged  to  lobby  the private sector to come on board  by providing the requisite farming  tools for the on the project.

In giving further insight into the project, Mr. Devonish said the size selected for the various livestock units were aimed at fostering self-sufficiency and based on a total inmate population of 1,010 persons. Excess food supplies, he added, would be distributed to other government departments.

Noting that the farm had already saved the prison approximately $140,000 on its food bill, he said the figure was expected to increase to $180,000 by next March, the end of the financial year.

Acting Superintendent of Prisons, Lieutenant Colonel John Nurse, said the prison’s food budget stood at $1 million inclusive of the food produced on the farm. He noted that the figure would have been “well over $2 million without the farm’s input”. The prison boss cited ingenuity by the farm and cooks at Dodds as being responsible for keeping down food costs.

Colonel Nurse noted that the sheep, pigs and cows currently housed at Glendairy, the former prison compound, were expected to be brought up to Dodds “fairly soon” in an effort to “push” its animal husbandry.

The male inmate population at Dodds currently stands at 1,010, while the female block accommodates 28 persons.

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