Got milk? Government, Windalco partner to increase production of commodity
Published: Sunday | November 15, 2009
With milk production trickling to worrying levels, brought about by the financial downturn, the Government has hammered out an arrangement with long-time cattle producers, Windalco, to stave off the threat of a dairy crisis hovering over the country.
Since 2008, milk production has been dripping more slowly with each passing month, dipping by 24 per cent in 2008-2009, over 2007 levels.
Crippled by the devastating global economic crisis, the limping bauxite-mining firms have been wrestling with what to do about their large cattle holdings. Faced with the prospect of a severe milk shortage and a likely dairy crisis, which could derail the food-security drive being pursued by the agriculture ministry, Windalco has agreed to continue its farming operations.
"They gave a commitment to the continuance of their agricultural operations in support of the Government's drive for enhanced national food security," Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Dr Christopher Tufton told The Sunday Gleaner.
Dr Marc Panton, chief technical director, has been asked to head a team to develop a policy on the post-mining utilisation of bauxite lands for agriculture.
Tufton told The Sunday Gleaner that Dr Paul Jennings, chief executive officer Jamaica Dairy Development Board, will lead a joint Ministry of Agriculture-Windalco team to develop a coordinated approach to improving the effectiveness of the land-utilisation programme, as well as the milk-production project.
Tufton disclosed that the specific terms of the agreement were fleshed out with Windalco General Manager Andrew Currie and Igor Dorofeev, resident representative of UC-RUSAL, the parent company, as well as the senior directorate of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Jamaica Bauxite Institute.
The minister disclosed that the meeting focused on three core areas:
1. The need for collaboration on strategies to improve the financial viability of the cattle operations.
2. Coordination of activities to improve the overall national benefit from the artificial insemination and embryo-transfer facilities of both Windalco and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
3. The need for a policy on the post-mining utilisation of reclaimed land as a means of cost reduction and rationalisation.
Tufton told The Sunday Gleaner that manager with responsibility for agriculture at Windalco, Marcia Tai Chun, highlighted the immediate negative impact of the suspension of bauxite/alumina operations on agricultural output in March.
Tai Chun also outlined the results of the effort to get back on track over the past three months, particularly with respect to milk production.
In 2008, Windalco accounted for 24 per cent of national milk production, with an output of approximately 3.2 million litres, while beef cattle sales exceeded 1,400 head.
Tufton said Windalco agricultural operations are, therefore, of significant strategic importance to the national drive for increased food security, particularly with respect to the domestic production of beef and milk.
However, Tufton said there was no plan at this time to increase importation of milk solids.
He said the Dairy Development Board Act was passed last year to give added protection to the local industry to prevent a recurrence of the problems which bedevilled the dairy industry in the 1990s.