Thu | Feb 25, 2021

JAS wants to help drive down food import bill

Published:Saturday | January 16, 2021 | 7:14 AMLeon Jackson/Gleaner Writer
In this 2020 file photo, Norman Spence, a blind farmer, checks on cabbages during his daily visit on his farm in Kilmarnock, St Elizabeth.
In this 2020 file photo, Norman Spence, a blind farmer, checks on cabbages during his daily visit on his farm in Kilmarnock, St Elizabeth.

Western Bureau:

With Jamaica importing more than US$900 million worth of agricultural produce annually, Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) Vice President, Denton Alvaranga, wants urgent steps to be taken to improve local production and reduce the import bill.

“We must take a critical look at national food security. Jamaica can grow more to help cut our import bill,” said Alvaranga. “There is no reason why we cannot produce more legumes. Grow what we eat and eat what we grow must be marketed to its maximum.”

Even as he pushed for increased local production, Alvaranga conceded that the sector has been negatively impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, especially as it relates to some of the agency’s iconic events.

“All except one of the parishes’ agricultural shows were cancelled. This included the largest agricultural show of its kind in the Caribbean, the Denbigh Show, which is usually held over three days in August. It is usually from these shows that funds are garnered to deal with the activities of our branches.”

According to Alvaranga, the non-staging of the Denbigh Show not only impact farmers but manufacturers as well.

“Farmers attend the shows and learn new techniques in farming. Manufacturers display their goods and services. Already Hi-Pro and us are in discussions about how we can plan to circumvent the ravages caused by COVID-19.”

Commenting on the Government’s plan to cut the $80 million it was offering as a subsidy to the JAS, Alvaranga hinted that there might be a rethink as the administration is now looking at its future relationship with the entity.

“The Government has hired a consultant to look into the relationship between JAS and Government. We are optimistic that it will be good for us,” said Alvaranga.

When contacted, Agriculture Minister Floyd Green told The Gleaner that the JAS is integral to the Government’s plan to develop an organised farming sector.

Going forward, the JAS says it will be seeking to strengthen its base with the farmers as that arrangement is crucial to future food security.