Thu | Feb 21, 2019

Editorial | Local versus imported

Published:Saturday | July 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Jamaica should be producing more of the items we consume. Everybody agrees. However, the reality is that Jamaica is now importing more than 1,000 products from all over the world as consumers embrace global brands.

A quick look at the June 2018 import statistics reveals that imported products include sugar, bread, pastry, frozen vegetables, ginger, thyme, spices and coconut oil.

We deliberately selected the above items because at first blush, one would think Jamaica is capable of producing such items in sufficient quantities to supply local needs so there ought to be no need to spend scarce foreign exchange importing them.

Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, in a moment of frustration back in the 1980s, was heard to declare "Jamaica is a land of samples," as he lamented the fact that even though Jamaica produced some of the finest products, the items were never available in sufficient quantities to satisfy local demand and with surplus for exporting. He cited ginger as a product of exceptional quality. The evidence suggests that 30 years later, we still have not found a way to satisfy local demand for ginger, much less to develop a lucrative export trade.

The Buy Jamaican movement has been in existence for decades and every now and then, actual public-relation campaigns are initiated with catchy slogans like, 'Eat what we grow and grow what we eat', accompanied by calls to support local industry. The arguments put forward in support of such campaigns, include creating demand for local goods and services, increasing employment, stimulating economic activity, and improving the country's gross domestic product.

And in the case of local agricultural produce, one of the obvious advantages is that produce arrives fresh having being spared a long journey from farm gate to table. Produce is harvested at its prime and can be at an outlet within hours of being reaped. Chances of food contamination are less when food is bought from local sources.

The sad thing is that while the campaigns may have had a slight impact in their early stages, they have not been sustainable and do not create real shifts in culture, either on the part of the producer or the consumer.

Businessman Adam Stewart, who chairs the Tourism Linkages Network, is the latest private-sector voice to champion the virtues of local industry. Mr Stewart demanded that Government insist that foreign direct investors tap into the "wealth of world-class goods and services on offer by locals".

The Sandals hotel executive was speaking at the 'Christmas in July' exhibition of more than 100 producers of craft, decorative accessories, and speciality foods at the Pegasus hotel. He told his audience: "... I am yet to find a need in the country that I cannot find at least one Jamaican company to fill."


Place emphasis on strengths


Obviously, Jamaica will not be able to grow all the things it would need to be self-sufficient and satisfy consumers' demands. However, we believe where there are obvious strengths, every effort should be made to encourage investment in these areas of economic endeavours.

And even among famous Jamaican brands, a significant portion of inputs have to be imported because of low productivity; the demand just cannot be met locally. We cite a distributor of brand of pepper sauce that imports its peppers from Colombia because it insists it is guaranteed consistent quality and quantity.

So as consumers become more concerned about where their food comes from and the inputs therein, it seems local farmers have the greatest opportunity to meet their needs. The Jamaica Agricultural Society and its members need to step up production, both in terms of the range of available products and the quality.

For its part, the Government can help the farmers by continuing to invest in the infrastructure, especially by improving farm roads and also providing research, particularly on climate-resilient crops.