Good potential for potato seed industry
Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
Jamaica could see significant savings and also secure a new source of hard currency earnings - from the creation of a potato seed industry based on facilities which are of world-class standards.
Vincent Thompson, agriculture specialist with the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) which has, under its Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI) programme, initiated a study of this subsector, says the country can save on imports of Irish potato seeds, ensure disease, free planting material, first-generation seeds and year-round availability.
However, a new study by Juan Carlos Pérez Guerra, a Belgian consultant hired through REDI to examine local conditions for quality Irish potato seed propagation, notes that the country has inadequate facilities in five laboratories surveyed.
Guerra was required to include in the scope of his review the Christiana Potato Growers, the Scientific Research Council (SRC), the University of the West Indies Biotechnology Centre, the Northern Caribbean University and Bodles Agriculture Research Station.
These he found to be under-equipped with technicians in need of training for seed production.
His study, titled 'An Assessment of Selected Jamaican Organisations Involved in the In-vitro production of plants' stated, however, that while the SRC and Bodles Station do not now have greenhouses and suitable weather conditions for mini tuber production, their in-vitro production can be commercialised.
The findings form part of Phase I of the overall project, with Phase II involving the improvement of infrastructure and equipping select facilities that will play a long-term role in the industry.
The Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, has targeted 2015 for local production to meet 100 per cent of local demand for Irish potatoes.
Since 2008, when 9.3 million kilograms of Irish potatoes were imported, to 2013, when 2.2 million kilograms were imported, there has been a more than a 75 per cent reduction in the importation of Irish potatoes. However, Irish potato seeds are still sourced from overseas and oftentimes these are fourth- and fifth-generation seeds..
"The most important steps to be taken towards the goal of developing a national Irish potato seed programme include regulations governing the entry, certification and national phytosanitary control of the programme," outlined Guerra.
According to Guerra: "Jamaica can easily turn from an importer of seed potatoes to an exporter, specifically to the Caribbean countries, where seed potatoes are highly necessary, and so far, there are no efficient seed potato production initiatives".
He said that if Jamaica were to become an independent seed source, this would protect the Irish potato as an important food supply for the country; improve seed quality; and enhance our independence and control on seed availability. The nation could also potentially benefit from increased yield per hectare and overall production.
"Having a self-sufficient seed potato programme will benefit Jamaica in many senses, including the elimination of import costs; internal development of a new agriculture industry; and better control of pests and diseases," he stated.