Partnership ... Ministry collaborating with the Holders of Capital to drive Growth
This is an exciting time for Jamaica. We are poised for growth. The Planning Institute of Jamaica has just reported that the country has grown by 1.1 per cent in the April to June quarter of the 2016-17 fiscal year and further growth is expected throughout the year.
I believe that agriculture can grow this economy significantly. Domestic crop production grew by 13.5 per cent in the first quarter of this fiscal year, and it is my belief that the sector can grow the economy by two to three per cent in the next five years. There are a number of areas of great potential such as coffee, cocoa, vegetables, sweet potatoes, and peppers.
However, the development of agriculture must be done in a structural way and must revolve around the Agro-Parks strategy. Specified lands must be designated as Agro-Parks to replace the traditional small farmers' holdings. These agro-parks are designed to bring together all of the necessary infrastructure for farmers, including water, light, and roads. They also provide much needed technical expertise, training, and farm management to the farmers. They will serve as pilots initially, but the intention is for more and more agro- parks to be developed across Jamaica as we introduce more infrastructure.
Only seven per cent of the island's irrigable land is currently irrigated. In short, over 90 per cent of the land in Jamaica that can be irrigated is without the facility. It means that we have been depending on rainfall and the use of wells to satisfy the needs of the farming community. There is no greater emergency than the expansion of water supply systems, especially in our most fertile areas. Over the next year, you can expect to see significant growth in the provision of water.
Our strategy is to help farmers with financing their operations through collaborations with the holders of capital in this country. We are seeking to forge partnerships between our farmers and large distribution companies, manufacturers, and the tourism sector. I believe that the holders of capital in this country must play a key role in our growth strategy.
As minister of agriculture, I am pleased to see partnerships between major manufacturers and our farmers. Through these partnerships, our farmers can rest assured that after they have toiled in their fields, they will have not only markets for their produce, they will also have guaranteed prices. This takes some of the risk and guesswork out of farming and allows farmers to focus on producing crops. From these partnerships, we are already seeing where farmers are expanding their operations.
JAS essential player
At the community level, I must commend the efforts of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS). The JAS is an essential player in the sector, which traditionally has had a very organised structure throughout Jamaica. Through collaboration with the JAS and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), we are going to ensure that farmers have the necessary training so they can implement better farming techniques. This will ensure that they consistently produce crops at the required quality level and in the required quantities for export.
As a ministry, we will also be providing equipment that will accelerate the pace at which fields are ploughed and maintained, saving farmers money and time.
For persons and businesses that are solely dependent on importing items without participating in the process by which these goods can be locally produced, you must be prepared to participate more actively in assisting farmers to expand their operations. It is through this marriage of agriculture and manufacturing that we will create real value and growth.
I met with a team from the International Monetary Fund last month,and their confidence in this country was overwhelming. While we have a long way yet to go, we have come a far way. Confidence is returning. The country is ripe for investment and development.
Our athletes have shown us what is possible with hard work and determination. Their performance in Rio last month is but a precursor of what is to come in this country. We can grow, we will grow, and agriculture will be the main driver of this growth.
Karl Samuda is minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries.