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Oran Hall Donkey work still creating path to financial independence

The prime minister has kept his word, and the female farmer from St Elizabeth now has a donkey, so she is now able to travel to her farm and transport her produce with much more ease than she used to. This should help enhance the quality of her life and the life of her family

The farm inputs she received and the one-year scholarships for two of her children who attend secondary school should also make life better for them, especially if a strong focus is kept on education.

The farmer’s story reminds me of my growing-up years in Claremont, eastern Hanover. There was an older lady who, though not a farmer herself, used to buy produce from the small farmers. She used to come with her donkey from Jericho – a neighbouring community – on a Wednesday. Then, early Thursday morning, she boarded the market truck for Montego Bay, 25 miles away.

Residents had other uses for their donkeys. They rode them to the field, to the shop and elsewhere, and generally used them as beasts of burden so that they could earn to fund the expenses of their families, including the cost of schooling their children.

Donkeys were prominent at Independence time in August. The community square buzzed with activity at that time. There was usually a cricket match generally pitting our district team against a team from St Ann. There were many other activities. Independence, though, was not independence if there was not a dance, but a favourite feature was the donkey race.

The beast of burden transitioned very easily to a racing donkey on Independence Day. Each donkey was dressed up and added meaningfully to the celebrations, which did not pass without the entrepreneurs making money from the sale of food, for example.

While the donkey provided support for the farmers by carrying loads of ground provisions, boxes of wet cocoa berries and large bags of dried pimento in the pimento season, and water for domestic use in some areas, the young men travelled by bicycle to Tryall to work as carpenters and masons on the hotel under construction. Pedal cycles later gave way to motor cycles. And over time, motor cars emerged.

Today, some young people work in the hotels on the coast, but there has been a steady flow of young people – some with good education and skills – to Montego Bay, Kingston, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. Serious farming is not an option, one reason being the difficulty of moving produce from the field to the better roads.

There are few donkeys today; it is not that they have won independence or have been emancipated. It is best to say that they have become redundant in a community that has changed and that has turned to motor vehicles in keeping with the times and people’s improved financial position.

It has changed in the sense that residents – with deeper pockets and more sophisticated tastes – prefer to travel to Lucea, the parish capital, to shop for, among other things, agricultural produce. Local businesses have virtually died. They have not been helped by more motor vehicles on the road, the condition of which keeps getting worse, ironically, even with some repairs.

The community has had electricity since 1961, and had running water for many years, was without it for longer, but now has a public supply again, though not 100% reliable. Is this enough to keep this community breathing and to give hope to those who choose not to leave?

As for the lady farmer from St Elizabeth, she has received a big boost. How much her financial well-being and that of many others like her in rural Jamaica improves depends not just on their resilience and focused and determined planning and execution of their pans, but on what the Government does to advance rural development in its drive to foster economic growth.

If rural communities have reliable supplies of water, reasonable roads, electricity, reliable transportation, well-equipped schools and training centres for children, and adults who want to get an education and training, and if their residents have access to reliable healthcare and meaningful jobs, and feel safe, more people can realistically dream of a better life for themselves and their children in Jamaica.

Helpful as the donkey may prove to be, the farmer should be able to dream of the day when she can make it redundant as she moves on a path of financial independence when she can have a motorised solution to the transportation and selling aspects of her business within and without the confines of her community.

Perhaps, too, guidance in proper business practices may go a far way in helping to grow her business and make it more profitable. And if her community members are unlike community members in some areas, who tend not to support their own, she could offer, in time, goods they now travel to the major towns to buy.

Blessings and success to all Jamaicans who seriously put into action meaningful plans and efforts to gain sustainable financial independence.

Oran A. Hall, author of Understanding Investments and principal author of The Handbook of Personal Financial Planning, offers personal financial planning advice and

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