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Letter of the Day: Samuda’s big task

Published:Tuesday | March 15, 2016 | 3:00 AM
Minister of Industry, Commerce and Agriculture, Karl Samuda.

THE EDITOR, Sir:

In his In Focus column, titled 'Can this Cabinet do it?', in The Sunday Gleaner of March 13, 2016, Ian Boyne conspicuously omitted to lay out the challenge facing Karl Samuda, who has been vested with responsibility for the combined portfolios of industry, commerce, and agriculture.

Without the benefit of a clear outline from the prime minister, of the overarching strategy behind this amalgamation of portfolios, it appears quite consistent with the recognition of the intersection between trade and domestic food production, which has historically worked to the detriment of local agriculture and, in fact, the Jamaican economy.

It is, therefore, to be hoped that not only the prime minister, but the entire Cabinet, will be seized with the urgency of lifting agriculture as the engine of growth beyond the cliche it has become in Jamaican politics. The table below shows clearly that agriculture, as the engine of growth, is, in fact, the reality of the countries upon which we have been historically dependent for our food supplies, to the detriment of investment in domestic food production.

Agriculture becomes the 'engine of economic growth' through the active promotion, not only of consumption of commodities, but through exploiting its natural linkages to other key sectors of the economy, particularly manufacturing. The very low multiplier from primary agriculture in Jamaica is directly attributable to the low absorption by the manufacturing sector (approximately 16 per cent) of locally produced food. Conjoined with this is a tourism sector that consumes only eight per cent of primary, and below 12 per cent of processed, domestic food.

Mr Samuda is, therefore, uniquely placed to effect the necessary coordination to harmonise trade and domestic food production to the overall national benefit.

Success in achieving this objective is critical to any growth agenda, as food imports (2013) account for approximately 16 per cent of our total import bill of US$6.2 billion and 22 per cent of a corresponding trade deficit of US$4.6 billion; the latter, the single largest contributor to our bewildering debt-to-GDP ratio - the major impediment to economic growth.

It is long past due for the adoption of food sovereignty (http://www.globaljustice. org.uk/what-food-sovereignty) as the driving philosophy behind any strategy for satisfying the basic nutritional requirements of the Jamaican population. This has been the secret behind the success of those to whom we have outsourced the job of feeding us.

PAUL JENNINGS

paul.jennings1950@gmail.com