Officials in shock, disbelief
Improving the efficiency and productivity of local farmers was on Roger Clarke's mind even as he recuperated from surgery in Florida, United States of America, with the anticipation of soon returning to the helm of the agriculture ministry.
"I spoke to him last on Tuesday night and what he said to me was, 'Donovan we really have to get those agro park guys together and make sure we maximise every inch of land in the agro parks and put it in production'," permanent secretary in the agriculture ministry, Donovan Stanberry told The Gleaner yesterday.
Stanberry was reacting to news of the minister's death, of which he learnt while en route to a sorrel-processing facility in Westmoreland.
"Based on the feedback that I've had from the ministry, the whole place is in disarray because everybody has just been overcome and overwhelmed with grief, partially brought on by the suddenness of his passing," the permanent secretary shared.
This he explained was due to the fact that in addition to his grasp of the technical aspects of the portfolio, Clarke always took a hands-on approach and was in touch with the farmers at all times and was "a genuine people person".
"I don't think Minister Clarke has ever taken a journey from Kingston to St Elizabeth and gone straight without stopping on some farm; he was that kind of person. One of the things we treasure most about him as a person, is that he was easy to forgive, didn't hold a grudge, didn't carry bitterness, loved farmers, loved people, loved to be engaged with people," he recalled.
Stanberry first worked with Clarke in the capacity of minister in April 2006 until the end of that tenure in 2007 when the Jamaica Labour Party took over the reigns of power. He pointed out that upon returning to office in January 5, 2012, the veteran politician set about revolutionising the agricultural sector.
"The sugar transformation - he was the one who championed the cause, not only on behalf of Jamaica, but certainly on behalf of the entire ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific countries) in terms of getting the EU (European Union) to provide some amount of compensation. And we got the resources; he was there when the Sugar Transformation Unit was formed in 2006 and he came to see the major aspects of the implementation in terms of the barracks housing," Stanberry explained.
In fact, head of Delegation for the European Union to Jamaica, Ambassador Paola Amadei remembers well Clarke's strident advocacy, especially with regard to the sugar transformation programme which it funds, recalling that he was one of the first ministers she met upon taking office.
She told The Gleaner: "I was always very grateful to him because he was always stressing the importance of the funds of the European Union for the sector and we were partnering in promoting 'Buy Jamaica' … ."
"Roger's death will create a void," was the response of Grethel Sessing, president of the All-Island Banana Growers' Association. "He basically did everything he could for the banana industry. He has assisted us in getting money from the EU and even outside of that he made funds available from his own allocation to assist us during the years we have been struggling."