Wed | Jan 23, 2019

Carolyn Cooper | Audley Shaw to make farming sexy?

Published:Sunday | April 15, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Audley Shaw's transfer from the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service to Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries is either a promotion or a demotion. Perhaps, Shaw has stepped up in life. He now has four areas of responsibility instead of two. And agriculture is a major portfolio.

Or you could take a quite different perspective: Of course a diss Andrew diss him! How him coulda do Audley dat? True, Audley did run gainst him fi turn party leader. So Andrew ha fi clip him wing. But him coulda did find a next ministry fi gi him. Big man inna finance gone down to farming?

Shaw himself puts a very positive spin on his new job. He is quoted in an April 3 article posted on the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) website with the headline, 'Shaw says he's ready to make a difference'. He enthuses: "This is my third full day on the job and I want to say how inspired I feel having gone to both the Agricultural Fair at Montpelier and now in Annotto Bay. I really feel inspired as your new minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries."




Audley should be cautious about too much inspiration. He must know the famous witticism attributed to the American inventor Thomas Edison. Success is 10 per cent inspiration and 90 per cent perspiration. I doubt very much that Audley will be perspiring in the field like the small farmers he needs to inspire. They are not the wealthy operators with hundreds of acres in cultivation. Most small farmers on tiny plots are not reaping rich rewards from their labour.

This is exactly the point made in last Sunday's Gleaner editorial. It threw out a challenge to Audley Shaw: "But to be really transformative, Mr Shaw also has to make agriculture sexy to a younger generation of better-educated Jamaicans." I don't suppose the Gleaner editorial meant sexy literally. It's the popular sense of the word meaning exciting or appealing in a more general sort of way.

But it's difficult to get young people excited about farming. It's not seen as a glamorous occupation. Or rewarding! And agriculture and sex just don't go together naturally. Unless, of course, you're talking about breeding farm animals! But it's not the livestock that need to feel sexy in this case.




Audley's daunting hurdle is our deep-rooted aversion to fieldwork that clearly has its origins in our history of enslavement. Back-breaking work does not usually benefit the labourer. Consider, for example, this wry proverb: 'Bakra work never done'. There's no point in rushing to finish it. Worse, it's only the exploitative owner of the business who benefits from the labourer's work. These days, 'bakra' is any exploiter, no matter the complexion.

True, there are also proverbs that advocate the necessity of hard work, even in situations where the positive outcome of effort is not immediately evident. 'One-one coco full basket' validates small increments of effort that ultimately result in the accomplishment of some fully satisfying objective. A similar sentiment is expressed in 'patient man ride donkey'. The ride may be slow, but it's sure.

How will Audley Shaw persuade supposedly educated young people to get on the donkey for the slow ride to food security? Most of them don't even know these proverbs that distill the wisdom of their elders. Today's youth are the products of our imported fast-food culture. They want everything quick and easy. And they are not to blame. Is who never give them hard food?




If Audley Shaw wants to rise to the challenge of making agriculture sexy, he should consult dub poet Ras Takura, founder of Dis Poem Wordz & Agro Festival. Ras Takura has created a love fest that celebrates both literature and agriculture. This seductive pairing is well established in metaphor. We plant the seed of an idea that germinates, blossoms, matures and then comes to fruition as a poem, song, essay, novel, play or blog. We cultivate a taste for literature as we sink our teeth into a good book. Food for thought!

Ras Takaru's festival grew organically. In 2011, he presented Mutabaruka in Concert, in recognition of World Poetry Day. That 'sell-off' event was held on the campus of the College of Agriculture, Science and Education, from which Ras Takura graduated. In 2012, Dis Poem Word Fest evolved. In 2013, agriculture was grafted on to poetry. The exchange of organic seeds became a primary focus of the festival.

On April 29, this 'upful' festival takes place at the Neville Antonio Park in Port Antonio, thanks to the sponsorship of the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport; Regal Custom Brokers; and the Forward Step Foundation. Featured performers are Jean Breeze, Mutabaruka, Michael St George, Tehut-9, Steppa, Richi Innocent, Cherry Natural, Ann Margaret Lim, Mel Cooke and Ras Takura himself. The top three entrants in the newly established Dis Poem All Schools competition will also perform. It will be a fruitful day. If Audley Shaw knows what's sexy, he'll be there.

- Carolyn Cooper is a consultant on culture and development. Email feedback to and