Nagra Plunkett, Assignment Coordinator
JAS, Gov't trying to increase local production to reduce massive importation of red kidney beans
Red kIdney beans, aka red peas, a staple in Jamaican homes, restaurants, roadside and fast-food joints, account for a portion of the country's massive import bill.
Flashback to 1993. This was not so as the island was producing much of the red peas it consumed.
Today, Jamaica imports more than 90 per cent of the staple as fewer farmers dare to challenge the 'lucrative' import market.
The low price of the imported red peas has driven many local farmers out of the once-thriving industry, leaving the market open for traders who import the product from around the world.
This has not escaped the attention of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), who are moving to change the trend.
"We have delivered 100 quarts of red peas to farmers in Portland and, over the next two months, the same quantity will be given to selected farmers in the other parishes to stem the demand for importation," said Senator Norman Grant, newly-installed JAS president.
"They will be required to pledge back some to the JAS National Peas Bank Programme, which will be launched in October," added Grant.
According to Grant, while he could not readily provide the exact cost of Jamaica's red peas import bill; the figure was "just too much".
The JAS boss said the red peas being used in the national project is of a superior quality to the imported product and the initiative will also help to generate well-needed employment.
"We will also be targeting the importers that bring in the peas and have them buy from the JAS Central Marketing Programme that we want to have up and running within the next six months."
With a food import bill at some $900 million, the Ministry of Agriculture is also trying to reduce the flow of red peas into Jamaica.
"The level of the country's red peas farmers is probably down to around three to four per cent now, or probably less, in the entire country," said Ian Hayles, state minister in the Ministry of Agriculture.
"We are going to be doing some things to fix that, because the level of custom duties that is placed on red peas importation cannot work," Hayles told The Sunday Gleaner.
Hayles also expressed concerns about the safety of the red peas that is being shipped into the island for consumption.
"In terms of food security, it is something that we have to look at ... some months ago, we had a big problem with the importation of red peas where it was discovered that rats were in a couple of containers of red peas that came here."
Hayles was also critical of the importers.
"There are business people in Jamaica who feel that the best way to grow the agricultural sector is to import. I am asking them that while we celebrate 50 years of Independence in this country, to start playing a greater patriotic role," declared Hayles.
"If you love Jamaica so much, show us how much you love Jamaica by buying and promoting the local stuff."