Fixing farming - Farmers weigh in on measures to grow the sector
Last year, the real value added for the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector declined by 0.1 per cent and accounted for 6.6 per cent of the country's gross domestic product.
The reduced output of the sector was largely attributed to drought conditions experienced across the island, which lowered crop yields and curtailed planting activities.
According to the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), export earnings from traditional agricultural commodities were valued at US$28.5 million compared with US$18.7 million in 2014.
Improved earnings were recorded for coffee and banana, while earnings from pimento, citrus and cocoa declined.
POLICY DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME
The Ministry of Agriculture has launched its policy development programme, which is designed to "support the strategic priorities that facilitate an enabling environment for the development of the agricultural sector".
For this year, real value added for the sector is expected to record positive growth with full recovery anticipated from the drought.
But the PIOJ has warned that the growth will "continue to be contingent on favourable weather conditions, improved farming infrastructure such as irrigation and farm roads, as well as the continuation of government programmes aimed at assisting farmers with technology, markets and loan financing".
The Sunday Gleaner last week asked some farmers in Clarendon for their advice to the agriculture ministry to fix the sector to ensure that it enjoys the elusive growth.
"I think part of the thing in fixing farming is education, because I don't think we get enough information on the kind of technical help that we need. There are times we make choices and it's not really the right choice, so you need persons to work with you - you know like RADA (Rural Agricultural Development Authority) - set up seminars and so on. They could educate us on certain things, we voice our concerns, and then we take it from there."
"We need to have a look at market. We have the best
products. We claim that we have strategies for ginger, pepper and all that to market it, but we are not selling it.
"We grow multiples of what we as Jamaicans can consume and the rest of it goes into the dump. The other thing we need to look at is incentives for farmers.
"Farmers, for the most part, have to invest ... and have to pay the full GCT cost on the dripping hose, and it's very expensive.
"Farmers don't really get any benefit from Government. When you have a farmer and Government gives him 50 pounds of fertiliser, it's an insult.
"They keep on telling us how important farming is to the Jamaican ... but they are just paying lip service. We need someone in the Government to really look at farming. We keep on having a cycle of drought and scarcity - we need to fix that and also properly address the problem of praedial larceny."
"Marketing is the main problem. I think the Government should be the one responsible for marketing. Maybe I can do my little thing in exporting my own crops, but the other man can't. Reviving the AMC (Agricultural Marketing Corporation) is critical. The Government needs to show an interest and stop talking morning, noon and night."
"The younger people should form groups and find ways to encourage them to come into
"Fixing farming, it is the Government's gateway for that. I remember back in the '70s people used to gather their stuff together and meet one place - the AMC truck would come and collect them and everyone would receive a voucher.
"For me, that is the only way of fixing farming in Jamaica right now. We have to get back to basics because farming has now gone to the dogs. The Government has to get involved; we of ourselves cannot do it."
"The Government has to get involved in terms of storage facilities and marketing because if we have a glut on the market and two months down the line we don't have anything, then that means something is wrong with the storage."
"In fixing farming, organisation is the key, as well as financing and subsidies. If you can't subsidise the feeds, seeds, fertiliser, equipment, you are not going to get it right. So in a nutshell, the Government needs to improve marketing, provide subsidies, and provide financing. Take the general consumption tax off farming equipment and it would make a whole lot of difference."
"Marketing our goods is our biggest problem. When we plant we need markets.
Farming is our living, our bank account, the money to send our children to school. We have JAS (Jamaica Agricultural Society), which all of us belong to, and come next week, Denbigh flood and they make money, and at no point they ever turn back one year and say, 'Farmers, Denbigh was good, we are going to give you a bag of fertiliser'.
"It is still not encouraging for us, but at the same time they come and say 'eat what we grow and grow what we eat', but the Government is not encouraging us."
"Structure, and I am saying local government. So let us look at the Clarendon Parish Council. When you go to Clarendon Parish Council, they must have a database of every farmer in Clarendon, what acreage he has, what he is planting, what he can produce.
"You must have a structure to it. So that when you are producing - this lady is producing pigs and it is pigs she is producing. That doesn't mean she can't have tomato and so on, but it must be registered.
"You must know when she will have her crops ready and everything. That's from the local government side of it.
"Policy, this will speak to how they deal with the importation of agricultural produce based on the same data that they have, and so on.
"And for God's sake, fix the financing so that people can get loans. But when they get loans, you make sure that if the loan is for a pickup truck, a pickup truck is bought, and it doesn't buy a sports car."