Wed | Aug 23, 2017

A.A. Bobby Pottinger| A fresh look at land use

Published:Tuesday | May 10, 2016 | 5:00 AMA.A. Bobby Pottinger

It would be a serious mistake for this or any other government to write off the sugar industry and make alternative use of the land. All players in the sugar industry, as well as other farming bodies, have to be part of the future productive use of the lands.

The first question one needs to ask is, why is the Worthy Park sugar estate and factory profitable? Ask this question of Peter McConnell, who recently retired and passed the mantle to a younger generation which has no intention of packing up. Ask the same question of Belize, which has one factory that was owned by Jamaica and is producing more or equal to all our factories. Ask the same question of the Cubans.

"Two men looked through prison bars. One saw mud, the other stars." To see stars, we need to be optimistic and get some well-needed efficiency in our factories. Cut fuel costs; reduce our dependency on imported fertiliser; convert the waste into fuel, as well as fertiliser; integrate our farm activities with the growing of chicken for local demand as well as for export; and use the residue from the droppings as fertiliser.

Additional crops such as corn, soya, cotton, red peas can be grown to support the main crop. With this diversification, the best of our factories will survive making sugar, molasses, rum and other products. Integration has to be the order of the day. Westmoreland once grew rice and had many small mills. Let's use some of the land for rice growing, and for rearing fish and shrimps.

To see mud is to use our most treasured asset, which is needed for production to be turned into housing. I ask the question, where will these people find employment? To turn back the clock of production would spell disaster for our country.

A few years ago, we were complaining about crime in Montego Bay. Today, we are complaining about crime in St James. The entire St James, Hanover and part of Westmoreland are now suffering from serious crime.

The population of Montego Bay has expanded; everybody is moving into the town to seek employment in tourism, as well as offshore remittance. There is not enough work for so many able-bodied persons. There is no more room and, therefore, overcrowding and crime have become the order of the day. This situation will eventually kill the golden goose, tourism, and we will all suffer.

Do not make the mistake and use agricultural lands for housing; you are compounding the problem and making policing almost impossible.

The banana industry can take off some of the workers. United Fruit Company once had a thriving banana cultivation at Bernard Lodge Estate. If we get back into banana cultivation on lowlands where irrigated water is available, we can, once more, get back into the shipping of bananas by chartering ships that give a lower rate of shipping costs.

 

Grow banana industry

 

Banana equally employs a large number of workers on a permanent basis. Once our Praedial Larceny Scheme is properly launched, a lowering of theft will be achieved.

Our agricultural land is our primary asset and must be preserved. I am urging the Government not to accede to the request to put a road through the banana lands at Bodles. This would cause permanent damage to the industry.

Marginal hillside lands should be considered for housing, as well as the expansion of housing in communities that already have the infrastructure - police station, post office, schools, clinic, church and sports facilities. All new housing schemes should have the input of the police force before building approval is given. Our police are overworked in dealing with problems that could have been solved at the beginning.

Our treasured possession, our land, must be guarded from becoming a concrete jungle. We must get into centralised marketing of all crops, including ganja, with the Government being the sole exporter of this crop. The centralised market will pay the farmer in hard cash and so there will be no more 'black market' for ganja. Part of the proceeds of sale must find its way into the health service to assist with diseases caused by smoking.

- A.A. Bobby Pottinger is a retired president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society and former custos of St Mary. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.