Wilberne Persaud, Financial Gleaner Columnist
There is great hope for a Jamaica that can grow from internal dynamism, if only the institutional requirements are modernised to accommodate the need for sometimes radical rearrangements.
A reader sent me this note that really puts a burden upon me by seeking advice that I am perhaps not sufficiently qualified to give. She is articulate and apparently knows her mind. She is resolute even in the face of peer disbelief and perhaps ridicule. She sets out her request as follows:
"I am a 26-year-old female who has recently graduated from university with a first degree in business administration. I am currently working as an administrative support, however I completely hate the job and I have developed a love for agriculture. I have spoken to a few of my friends and told them my dreams of owning a coffee farm and/or a banana plantation and to do vegetables in order to gather short-term income.
"My problem is that they think I am joking, but I am not. They say there is no market and furthermore what a person with a degree is going into farming to do. They also say it's risky and dangerous, and worse, unprofitable. I don't agree. I think there is room for development in the agriculture sector in Jamaica, and I want to be a part of the development. My father owns several acres of land in St. Catherine that is becoming a forest. I have saved some money to start."
For completeness let me indicate that minor grammatical changes were made to her note. But overall this graduate is indeed a credit to her university. She needs encouragement and validation of her vision. Her friends' comments illustrate some of the more debilitating perceptions of agriculture in today's Jamaica:
It is a dead-end enterprise.
University education and a degree are wasted in agriculture.
A degree equips one to work for others.
Entrepreneurial endeavours are too risky.
Agricultural enterprise is risky and dangerous, indeed unprofitable.
These perceptions are widespread among young people. The fact she suggests coffee and bananas reflects the limited Jamaican experience.
It also reflects what I am sure is the fact that in her business aministration courses there was little or no reference to the management or even discussion of the peculiarities of agricultural enterprise. No discussion of changing realities of production and trade in worldwide agriculture.
That her friends see a university degree as wasted in agriculture is one of the most problematic perceptions the country faces. Nothing could be further from the truth. Agriculture has always, from its very beginnings succeeding the 'hunter-gatherer' stage of our development, been a knowledge-based activity. That the 'knowledge' was merely empirical for long periods of time is unquestionable. That the power of such knowledge was fundamentally important is constantly being validated by both anthropological and archaeological findings.
Such knowledge is relied upon for instance, by efforts of the major pharmaceutical giants to isolate properties in plants known to indigenous and other populations to possess healing and preventive health properties.
California's vineyards would be impossible without knowledge generated by scientific research. The same goes for our Tilapia fisheries.
This young woman cannot be unique in Jamaica. There must be others with her ideas and motivation. Our greatest resource is not red mud. It is our young people-the next generation.
Good government should be small-good governance, equitable and predictable. It should implement systems and institutional development that give expression to our motto and national anthem, to our commitment to democracy.
But it should also seek to create conditions for a better future. This turns on economic system capacity to grow and sustain a growing population. In this mix, agriculture cannot be left out. For its growth there needs to be a rethinking of elements of our education system, of our commitment to research, development, finance and encouragement of productive enterprise based on individual effort.
In the past, research in agriculture and livestock benefited from the efforts of Dr. T.P. Lecky - Jamaica Hope, et cetera. [Is he as yet a national hero?] Government research stations and personnel were of great assistance to farming in general.
Education and agriculture don't offer the glitz and hype of New Kingston's asset management and bond trading. They offer on the contrary, the bedrock upon which the former is built. While we cannot go back to the days of old, we ignore their lessons at our distinct peril.