Some $100 million has been earmarked for renovation of the state-owned export facility located at 188 Spanish Town Road, popularly know as the AMC Complex, to bring it up to the standard dictated by the United States for fresh and processed agricultural food entering that country. Repairs to the roof, electrical system, modification of the layout of warehouses and improvement of the restroom facilities are part of the Government's three-year J$414 million Food Safety Modernisation project.
The Food and Drug Administration, the United States agency responsible for protecting public health, has instituted much more stringent phytosanitary measures, following promulgation of the Food Safety Modernisation Agency in January last year. It gives the agency sweeping powers as it shifts the focus to preventing food contamination rather than responding to it. It comes against the reality of some 1,350 deaths, 56,000 hospitalisations and 9.4 million food-borne illnesses recorded in the United States each year.
Must secure sector
"This has significant implications for Jamaica as the United States represents our major export market," Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke told a press conference recently, noting that Jamaica exported US$22.4 million worth of yam, hot pepper, ackee and callaloo for 2010.
"Every effort must be made to prevent any fallout in the agricultural sector and, by extension, the national economy," he warned, explaining that it was for this reason that a Food Safety Modernisation Act Committee was set up in October last year. The aim is to develop a strategy to improve the capacity/capability of farmers and fresh produce exporters to comply with the new measures.
To this end, the Jamaica Social Investment Fund, along with the Agricultural Competitiveness Programme, Fisheries Management Fund and agriculture ministry, is funding different aspects of the overall programme, and has earmarked J$48,968,000 for a National Food Safety Compliance for the Export Market Pilot Project.
Some of the targeted 3,600 farmers have already begun receiving training in good agricultural practices and use of pesticides. This is in addition to a pilot project involving 200 farmers and 20 fresh produce exporters who will be trained in a wide range of areas and receive assistance to improve farm infrastructure such as bathrooms, packing sheds, pesticide storage area and employee recreational areas.
Training to date has included Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) officers and plant quarantine/produce branch inspectors in post harvest operations/procedures; training of farmers groups in St Ann, St Elizabeth, Westmoreland and St Mary, as well as members of the Greenhouse Growers Association.
The Bureau of Standards Jamaica, RADA, Ministry of Health and Jamaica Exporters Association are some of the key implementing agencies.
- Christopher Serju