Tue | May 23, 2017

Organic sector needs greater government input

Published:Tuesday | June 30, 2015 | 6:01 AM
A local farmer showing his mettle at organic farming.

While conventional farming continues to hold sway in the region within recent years, several organic farms have emerged in western Jamaica, established largely by players in the island's hospitality and tourism industry.

In Caanan Mountain, near Little London, in Westmoreland, the Zimbali Mountain Retreat produces organic food, on several acres of land, which is prepared for guests as part of the property's culinary farm tour and for those who overnight there.

Currently, the world-famous Round Hill Hotel in Hanover produces its own vegetables and fresh herbs on three organic farms on its property, while luxury hotel grouping Island Outpost operates the Pantrepant Organic Farm at Martha Brae, Trelawny.

According to information gleaned from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Government of Jamaica began paying attention to organic agriculture in 2004 when it invested J$20 million in the National Organic Agriculture Enhancement Project (NOAP) to, among other things, develop a national policy for organic agriculture and the requisite legislation for regulating and monitoring the organic agriculture sector.

At the time, the National Organic Agriculture Steering Committee noted in its NOAP proposal that organic agriculture had been the fastest-growing sector in the agriculture industry over the last 10 years, with worldwide sales of certified organic products in excess of US$30 billion.

growth of the sector

The body, which consisted of representatives from the Consumer Affairs Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture's Research and Develop-ment and Economic Planning Divisions, the Jamaica Organic Agriculture Movement, and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, noted at the time that there continued to be requests from the international market for certified organic products from Jamaica.

"The sector continues to grow at a rate of 20 to 30 per cent per annum, with the organic vegetables sector growing by as much as 80 per cent per annum. With increased awareness about the benefits of organic agriculture to the environment and human health, this growth is expected to continue over the next 10 years," the committee noted.

Despite the booming international demand for organic produce, Jamaica has still not fully capitalised on it. In October 2013, Daniel Schweizer, executive chef at the Goddard Catering Group, said Jamaica was missing out on a golden opportunity to supply the private airline industry with organic food. Goddard services 20 airlines and operates at the country's two international airports.

lack of supply

Schweizer's comments were made during a Gleaner Food Editors' Forum in Montego Bay. At the time, Schweizer said the number of food and beverage managers of private airlines asking for organic foods was on the increase, but Jamaica had not been able to respond to the requests due to a lack of supply. He said that government intervention was needed to uplift the sector.

Today, the country still awaits the implementation of the proposed National Organic Policy. A 2012 document titled 'Review of Policy, Plans, Legislation, and Regulations for Climate Resilience in Jamaica', which was published by the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), said the policy would cover organic food production, farming systems, and trade.

The PIOJ said the guiding principles of the policy were a private sector-led industry, with the Government playing a facilitatory role, socio-economic development with emphasis on enhancing rural development, as well as accreditation of certification bodies, development of national organic standards, and legislation to govern the production and trade of organic food. It will also address Government's role in marketing, research and development, and the provision of extension and other services to the organic subsector.

- C.G.