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Editorial | Another appeal for JAS to disband itself

Published:Monday | June 26, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Nearly seven years ago, in July 2010, this newspaper suggested to the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) that, given its deepening state of atrophy, it should disband itself and make way for a new farmers' organisation with a clear and coherent vision of a modern agriculture sector.

We also suggested that they abandon that year's Denbigh Agricultural Show. If they persisted with the fair, it should be as a platform from which to announce the retirement of the then 115-year-old JAS. Wrongly, they ignored our recommendation.

A poorly organised, unthemed bazaar was held at the ramshackle Denbigh Showground - to the pain and dismay of people who are serious about agriculture. In the face of the complaints, we commented afterwards: "It is a shame ... that the Denbigh ground has been allowed to deteriorate into this gritty, garbage-strewn environment - all the elements of urban decay."

We are in a similar state again. The island's health ministry is threatening to close the Denbigh Showground in the face of complaints by the Clarendon authorities that it poses a threat to public health.

During past shows, they say, toilets didn't work; solid waste was improperly managed; food was prepared in unhygienic conditions by people who didn't have the appropriate permits; and the venue was a breeding ground for virus-transmitting mosquitoes.


Cosmetic improvements


The JAS may yet get a reprieve, allowing the show, which has gone on for more than 60 years, to be held at the start of August. Any improvements at the showgrounds, however, will be merely cosmetic. Like the JAS.

The underlying problem will remain. For the Denbigh Showground is merely a metaphor of the JAS and its leadership.

As we said in 2010, the JAS, once an important and substantial organisation, long ago reached an evolutionary cul-de-sac. Like the agriculture it champions, and despite the occasional stilted recitation of modernity by its leaders, the JAS remains rooted in the early 20th century.

While it ostensibly advocates for agriculture, and occasionally stumbles on an achievement, it has not, for a long time, been a farmers' organisation in the sense of a transformative agency curious about trends of the future and how its members will adapt to them. Even if it convinces itself that it does, it views these matters in a blurry, opaque way.


Lock on positions


The JAS' dilemma, as we observed in 2010, is that despite the organisation's politically diverse membership, its leadership was long ago expropriated by the People's National Party (PNP). Its top post is a base from which to nurture political ambitions. Those who rise to its leadership tend to maintain a lock on their positions.

When, in 2010, we commented on the JAS, Glendon Harris, who became the PNP mayor of Montego Bay, was the society's president. He had recently succeeded Norman Grant, a PNP member of the Senate. Mr Grant has since returned to the presidency, an exchange similar, it seems, to that of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and Dmitry Medvedev, who had warmed the seat for Mr Putin, who had briefly stepped down to honour constitutional obligations.

With regard to the Denbigh Showground, Mr Grant will claim that lack of resources limits the JAS' ability to upgrade, which seems plausible. But that's not the real constraint. Rather, it's the lack of expansive thinking - which sums up the JAS' role in agriculture.