'Be more strident!' - Former president charges JAS to defend farmers
Former president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) Alaric 'Bobby' Pottinger on Wednesday challenged the leadership of the 132-year-old statutory organisation to demonstrate greater levels of independence in the execution of its duties and to reject any influence that is not in the interest of its membership.
"Not because we get a subvention from the Government in the JAS, we have to take risks and talk for what we want. Government funds are never sufficient to cover all the areas, but if you press your case, you will get what you want for an important sector as this," Pottinger declared at the relaunch of the JAS president's leadership breakfast at its Church Street, downtown Kingston, head office. "We have the most members of Parliament in the country in the agriculture sector and I seldom hear them defending our case, which is a sad commentary," he added.
Pottinger challenged the board of directors to be more strident on behalf of the more than 220,000 farmers it represents across the country, offering an example of how this had paid off during his tenure as president.
GET UP AND SPEAK
"I took a lot of risks and sometimes got a lot of battering, but we got the results. There was a time when we were to get 12 tractors and I said to the honourable prime minister [P.J. Patterson], 'I not having any Denbigh unless we get some of the tractors', and the tractors arrived there because it was a promise to the farmers. You need the farmers who represent the parishes to get up and speak!
"In recent times, I believe, St Elizabeth got the most help when there was a drought because they were always talking. I was surprised to see the amount of help that went to St Elizabeth while other parishes were suffering worse and never got any attention. We hope that we, the parish leaders, will get up and speak. Don't feel compromised because it's your government. You are representing the people," the former JAS president charged the directors.
His call comes almost seven years after President Norman Grant and former president Glendon Harris gave an assurance that they were committed to cutting the apron strings that bind the JAS to the State, as a first step in achieving the renewal that would prepare it to spearhead the well-needed transformation of the sector so as to make it competitive.
... Give us a golden handshake
"The Government has benefited from the legacy of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) ... and, therefore, as a golden handshake, it should give us a sum and then retire us. We will proceed now into several projects to transform the agricultural sector," Norman Grant, who was then first vice-president told a Gleaner Editors' Forum in August 2010, going on to make a case for this to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
"We wrote to the minister in 2008 to say that we want to engage in a strategic review to reposition the JAS. The JAS, notwithstanding $400 million worth of assets, cannot use those assets because we are seen as a statutory body. Even though we developed a plan for the central marketing system and got EXIM (Export-Import) Bank to approve a $100-million loan four years ago, we could not get the money because the Government had to sign a guarantee," said Grant. He blamed both the People's National Party and Jamaica Labour Party for not approving the scheme because it was considered an untenable liability.
On that occasion, Glendon Harris, who was then president of the JAS, argued that while it's independence has, over the years, been questioned, an objective review of its performance would show that it has positively impacted rural communities and, especially, farming families. Both men were present at Wednesday's meeting, but did not respond to Pottinger's challenge.