AGRICULTURE AND Fisheries Minister Roger Clarke has emphasised the need to position agriculture as the main driver which will assist in piloting Jamaica out of its current economic challenges.
Highlighting the country's almost US$1 billion food import bill, which he describes as "unsustainable", the minister said this and other economic hurdles need to be substantially addressed through agriculture.
Speaking recently at the graduation exercise for more than 30 participants in the 'Marketing and Agriculture for Jamaican Improved Competitiveness (MAJIC)' Farmer Field School, at the Bridge Palm Hotel in Clarendon, Clarke lamented that agriculture is often not being held in high regard, but rather deemed as "some menial thing about the place".
"There was a time when agriculture used to play a great role in this country. Unfortunately, it was overcome by developments in bauxite, among other things. You see what is currently happening with (the closure of some bauxite companies); everybody now has to fall back on agriculture," the minister pointed out.
Highlighting the increased number of young people currently engaged in the sector, Clarke said this "augurs well" for the industry's future, and suggested that the challenges in the sector are not insurmountable.
"We must find a way to ensure that we eat what we grow and grow what we eat. This is something that has been spoken of for nearly 40 years. Therefore, we have to step up to the plate and make sure that we move head on to deal with that situation," he said.
To this end, Minister Clarke emphasised the need for special focus on areas in which the country has competitive advantage, in addition to product packaging, presentation and pricing.
Citing his recent visit to London, England, to analyse the market there, "to see what we could capitalise on," Clarke said he was informed by stakeholders that crops, such as yam and pumpkin, were being imported from other countries, at a more competitive price than what obtains locally.
"Competition is the order of the day. Even the presentation of our products is also critical. The presentation of the things we produce must look so attractive that people want to buy it," the minister said, while urging greater effort in pursuits that will boost the sector's fortunes locally and globally.
The MAJIC is a United States Agency for International Development-funded project which was jointly implemented by the agriculture ministry and the Agricultural Co-operative Development International/ Volunteers in Overseas Co-operative Assistance (ACDI/VOCA), a US-based private, international development non-profit organisation.
MAJIC's project activities were designed, in partnership with the ministry, to assist Jamaica's agricultural sector to become a more market-driven, profitable, and competitive industry, contributing significantly to economic and social growth in rural communities.
The project pioneered the expanded use of the Farmer Field School methodology to enhance farmer knowledge and best-practice adoption in Jamaica, with emphasis on demonstrations in solving problems with the growing cycle of field crops.
Last Wednesday's graduation was the third and concluding leg in the series, which saw over 60 farmers graduating, having completed the training course delivered by the ACDI/VOCA technical team over 20 weeks.
- Contributed by Douglas McIntosh, Jamaica Information Service
Full Caption: Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Roger Clarke (left) presents Farmer Field School graduate Cheryl Binns with her certificate during last Wednesday's graduation ceremony for participants in the United States Agency for International Development-funded Marketing and Agriculture for Jamaican Improved Competitiveness project training course at the Bridge Palm Hotel in Clarendon. Minister Clarke was the guest speaker. Binns was one of more than 30 trainees who participated in the course. - Contributed