‘A call to action’
News that Jamaica spent $2.7 billion to import chicken back from the United States last year has prompted president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), Senator Norman Grant, to call for immediate steps to reduce the huge importation bill.
"This should be a call to action. We must now see this tremendous opportunity of $2.7 billion," said Grant.
"Let's put 10,000 more people to work. Let's get some more poultry farms going. Let's increase our production, consistent with the 'Eat What We Grow' campaign, so we can grow what we eat and eat what we grow and really tackle this US$1b worth of food that we are importing each year," declared Grant.
He charged that the time has come for us to expedite a programme for food security with support for the local agricultural sector, which would result in the creation of jobs and sustainable growth and development of the Jamaican economy.
"In 2003, when we launched the Eat Jamaican Campaign, we produced 400,000 metric tons of local food. At the end of 2013 we were up to 619,000 metric tons, but we have the capacity to go to 1.2 million thousand metric tons," declared Grant.
"We can produce food in this country that will contribute to our NIR (Net International Reserves) [and] stabilise our dollar. [It] will grow the economy and not only provide us with the path to food security, but it will also provide us with a path to economic independence.
"It is going to be agriculture, which is the bedrock and the lifeblood of the Jamaican economy."
According to the JAS president, in order for there to be an exponential growth in the agricultural sector, there needs to be a focus on rural development and celebration of the 220,000 farmers across the island.
"This call to action is not only a call for the farmers to get out there and produce more, not only a call for the JAS to provide more support services, and RADA (Rural Agricultural Development Authority) extension service, and the 4H clubs to the youth, but it is also a call to the Government to ensure that the macroeconomic framework is right to provide the required support to the farmers to expand production.
"And I'm talking about improvement in our farm roads and rural road network, the fixing of our water supplies, including irrigation, the providing of financing through the development banks and the PC (People's Co-operative) banks, for small farmers to just expand production all over Jamaica," said Grant.
Pointing specifically to poultry imports, which the International Trade Centre put at just over US$31 million last year, Grant said he would like to see the amount cut in half by 2019, with Jamaica becoming totally self-sufficient in poultry meat by 2024.
"And I say in another 10 years time, because you would have repositioned the poultry industry in such a way that we can produce more poultry locally, we are going to be more competitive in our prices because of the economy of scale.
"At that time, we will not only be producing what we eat, but we can certainly export some of the best poultry meat to our neighbours in the region," said Grant.
November is Eat Jamaican Month and the celebration of the 11th anniversary of the "Grow What We Eat, Eat What We Grow" campaign. The month is being marked under the sub theme: 'Agriculture Going for Growth'.