THE PRESIDENT of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), Norman Grant, recently spoke at meeting in Portland. In his view, despite the constraints to the agricultural sector, he believes that by next year, the sector can double its current production. Singling out the parish of Portland he stated, "I want to charge the farmers of Portland to lift the levels of production. When the next report comes out I want to see Portland's overall contribution to the JAS national promotion moved from 2.7 per cent to 5.4 per cent by next year, that is a 100 per cent increase, and over the next five years for it to grow to at least 15 per cent."
Yet, while encouraging the farmers to do more, Mr. Grant acknowledged the constraints to production. Two of the most glaring are crime and the cost of capital. "Crime has suddenly become the top focus of our small and beautiful island. Ladies and gentleman, sociologically speaking, crime is linked to many other social factors which contribute to its existence. For example, unemployment, education, are some of the social factors which, if not in good standing, will lead to crime."
In terms of the cost of capital, Mr. Grant said, "I take the opportunity to call on our banks to reduce their rate spread in order to get farmers, small and large, and the manufacturers to get more affordable money to develop Jamaica. The interest rate spread of our commercial banks is in the region of 16 per cent, way above the international norms. We have no problem with the bank making money, but it cannot continue to be at the expense of the poor who continue to support these institutions."
Additionally, Mr. Grant outlined other constraints on the agriculture sector.Unavailability of tractor service for land preparation at reasonable cost.
Looking at the producing parishes, Mr. Grant, spoke about their performance over last year.
Agricultural production in the parish suffered serious setbacks in 2004 and recorded a decline of 16 per cent when compared with the performance of 2003. Output for the year amounted to 78,000 tonnes, down from the 93,000 tonnes reaped during 2003.
Notwithstanding the overall decline of 16 per cent for the year, the parish remained the largest contributor to domestic crop production, accounting for 18.9 per cent of the all-island production.
Despite a 12.6 per cent decline in production for the year under review, the parish contributed 76,000 tonnes of produce to the overall production in 2004, representing 18.6 per cent of the national production. The bulk of the production came from yams, which accounted for 74.6 per cent of the overall output in the parish.
The parish also faces several other challenges which impede production. Among these are the high cost of input such as fertiliser, stakes and pesticides, along with poor farm roads and scarcity of farm labour.
Production in the parish showed a decline of 9.4 per cent, moving from 72,000 tonnes in 2003 to 65,000 tonnes in 2004.
The unstable weather conditions were not the only factors affecting production.
The high cost and scarcity of planting materials and inputs such as fertiliser and pesticides, the high cost and scarcity of farm labour, inadequate marketing outlets for some crops (when in abundance) and continued bauxite mining operation in the southern section of the parish greatly reduced the amount of land available for farming purposes.
Despite the decline the parish accounted for 15.8 per cent of the all-island production.
The volume of domestic crops reaped in the parish in 2004 fell by 18.8 per cent when compared with the quantity reaped in 2003.
In addition, the parish also experienced drought conditions in the early part of the year which resulted in lowered levels of crop establishment and subsequent reduction in area reaped.
Notwithstanding this, a fair amount of vegetables and other crops have been re-established during the fourth quarter.
The parish contributed 10.1 per cent to the all-island production.
Despite a 23.8 per cent decline in production in 2004 the parish contributed 34,000 tonnes of produce to the all-island production, thus accounting for 8.4 per cent of the overall production.
Some low yields were reported mainly as a result of salvage in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan. A considerable amount of yams, estimated at 11,000 tonnes, was reaped for the year. However, this was 19.7 per cent lower than the quantity reaped in 2003.
PORTLAND IN DECLINE
Production in the parish declined significantly by 19.5 per cent during 2004 from 13,000 tonnes reaped in 2003 to 11,000 tonnes in 2004.
It should be noted also that some areas which were once productive are now out of production due to soil erosion and inaccessible farm roads.
The high costs and scarcity of planting materials and farm labour also impede the level of production in the parish.
Despite the decline, the parish accounted for 2.7 per cent of the all-island production.