Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Jamaica on the road to nowhere

Published:Sunday | October 12, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Ronald Mason

Ronald Mason

Agriculture accounts for approximately seven per cent of Jamaica's gross domestic product. It has some 200,000 persons directly employed and another 100,000 in related occupations, yet we cannot feed ourselves with a nutritionally complete meal based on what we produce.

More than 30 years ago, we produced 44 million litres of fresh milk, but today we struggle to produce 12 million litres. The decline was attributed to multiple factors, including cheap milk powder, and praedial larceny.

What can be done to arrest the decline? Certainly, not policies like selling the agricultural lands in Montpelier by the Development Bank of Jamaica for housing when there are modern facilities for agro-processing already in existence on the same land. This is especially jarring in light of our policy of developing agro parks and the significant growth in the economy linked to the agricultural sector's recovery from the last hurricane, Sandy.

Is the agriculture ministry not on speaking terms with the Office of the Prime Minister and the finance ministry? Why are we not blending cassava flour with imported wheat? Can't we grow cassava in commercial quantities? Ask Red Stripe why it is investing in the production of cassava for the manufacture of beer - our esteemed Red Stripe, being no less. Are we to expect much from the agricultural sector for the foreseeable future, now that the portfolio has been made a department of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security?

CLEANLINESS

What a people? The average Jamaican, male or female, will 'hol' a fresh' two to three times daily if possible, but we refuse to dispose of garbage in an environmentally friendly way. Dumping garbage in gullies and just about everywhere else is considered the norm. Now even chik-V has affected that strange trend of thought.

What would be the effect except the howl and outrage if we were just to acknowledge that lots of uptown, downtown and all-around-town fellow citizens are plain and simply nasty. We keep our motor vehicles cleaner than our surroundings. I would not be surprised if this economy sold more cars annually than rakes and brooms. Do most people even know how to use a rake? Cleanliness - what is that?

EDUCATION

There are still persons owing us who only attained the Jamaica Local Exam proficiency in their quest for formal education. Some who only completed primary school. All of this came about because of colonial policy and a lack of facilities and opportunity. However, it seems these persons were indeed very well served compared to the great mass of some 50,000 students who now complete high school only to be recipients of 'school-leaving certificates'?

The challenge to educate to an acceptable level of proficiency is a big one. We do not have the calibre of teachers - degreed, yes, but lacking in commitment and skill, and not competent in the subject in the quest for excellence. Some of the school plants are woefully ill equipped.

This does not seem to be a priority for the nation. The teachers and those with vested interests holler when the survey results are published. The refrain: You do not know how much value we have added since these students were admitted. They came in having earned averages of 20 in GSAT and now they have doubled it and more all the way to 45. How pathetic!

Why is it sacrosanct that children must leave school at about the age of 17, not when they have attained the maximum of their potential? A non-functional 17-year-old is infinitely worse than a functional 21-year-old.

This education system must be responsive to the person and not operate on the principle of a garbage-in, garbage-out production line. We, as members of the community, wonder why the male refrain is: "If you love me, give me a yute" for the affirmation of worth. And the female says I want a baby who will love me unconditionally because I am worthy. Poor us!

HEALTH

The persons seeking assistance at our hospitals die for want of attention, even while the doctors declare a desire to leave. Graduate nurses cannot find a job, yet the Ministry of Health seeks the retired nurse to volunteer to cope with chik-V-related demands for care. We are alleged to have an adequate supply of medication, yet one travels to multiple places in search of the palliative. We just do not value life.

I have not heard of overcrowding in the popular cemeteries, so the urgency does not prevail. God help us if Ebola or Marburg makes an appearance. Just remember: You cannot outrun Ebola or Marburg. There would be no safe country.

Ronald Mason is an immigration attorney and Supreme Court mediator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and nationsagenda@gmail.com.