Congratulations to Roger Clarke for being awarded the national honour of Commander of the Order of Distinction (CD).
We look forward to formal conferment of the award on Mr Clarke on National Heroes Day in October at the traditional ceremony at King's House to be presided over by the governor general, Sir Patrick Allen.
Mr Clarke, in addition to his duties as minister of agriculture in the Simpson Miller government, is perhaps Jamaica's largest individual sugar cane farmer.
Ironically, though, the public announcement of his CD did note these facts about the minister. The national honour, it said, was for his more than 20 years of "outstanding service" to Parliament.
The minister's CD, noticeably, coincided with his speech at the Denbigh Agricultural and Industrial Show, at which he moaned over Jamaica's US$900-million-plus food-import bill and announced his wish to slice it by around US$300 million.
"... We have to do something about it (the food-import bill), because it is not sustainable," said Mr Clarke.
We agree with the minister about the unsustainable economics of the bill, particularly its contribution to the deficit on visible trade and on the broader current account. There are other reasons, too, why increasing domestic agricultural production and consumption make sense, such as the matters of job creation and improving food security.
But such logic and good intentions are not, of themselves, sufficient to drive production. And this is where we believe that Mr Clarke, in his Denbigh speech, and other utterances on other subjects, consistently falls short.
Mr Clarke, neither in his previous stint as agriculture minister or the seven months since the People's National Party's (PNP) return to office, has, in our view, articulated a clear strategy towards this goal.
This is not to say that the minister has not laid out broad ideas. He, for instance, hopes to reduce the number of duty waivers - the annual value of which is not known - offered on agricultural imports. That, though, is in keeping with the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) insistence that waivers, generally, be eliminated to help narrow the fiscal deficit, and where they remain, be made transparent.
GREATER VISION FOR AGRICULTURE
There has been, from Mr Clarke, the absence of vision - a concept and a process for transforming Jamaica's still largely 19th-century production system into a 21st-century economic activity. This is beyond more than mere exhortation. And it is a programme that should, at this point, be further along than "analysing" the import bill and planning to "set targets".
We again offer Minister Clarke a specific policy plank, which he previously said he favours, that would immediately induce investment in agricultural production: announce that, by the start of the 2013-2014 academic year, at least 95 per cent of the inputs for the Government's School Feeding Programme will have to be domestic agricultural and/or agro-processing output.
In articulating the big vision for modern agriculture, policymakers have to think of how to convert more than the 40 per cent of output - even at a low base - to value-added process and think beyond subsidies on hoes, forks and machetes. If he accomplishes this, Mr Clarke could quickly trade in his CD for the higher Order of Jamaica.
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