Jamaica imported no pork leg for preparing ham this past holiday season, breaking a long-standing tradition as the Ministry of Agriculture pushes for reliance on domestic food.
The break with tradition followed pleasing results from ongoing pig experimentation.
The ministry and Newport Genetics have, through research, "come up with a new breed of pig that gives a far greater level of productivity", said Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Donovan Stanberry.
Newport Genetics is an affiliate of Caribbean Broilers.
"We have done nothing like this Christmas," said Stanberry, referring to the sacrificing of pork leg imports.
"And it is based on research work that we have done," he said.
Local pigs normally grow to an average of 140 pounds in six months, but under the Newport Genetics programme they now reach an average of 280 pounds within the same period, using the same amount of feed, Dr Keith Amiel, the corporate affairs manager at Caribbean Broilers, said during a June 2011 tour of the research facility.
Agricultural research and development has been tapped as one of nine priority areas to address food security regionally. But while Stanberry touts the pork project as an R&D success, he acknowledges that progress in this area has been slow.
Jamaica's zero importation of pork leg for Christmas during 2012 followed negligible imports of 5,796 kilogrammes valued at US$33,500 in 2011 and 61,845 kilograms valued at US$191,000 in 2010, according to Ministry of Agriculture data.
For the nine months to September 2012, Jamaica's food import bill was US$716.7 million (about J$67 billion), which was on pace to match or exceed the US$938.4 million (J$87 billion) spent on foreign food for all of 2011, data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica shows.
Newport Genetics, a core breeding facility to improve pig rearing across Jamaica, was established as a result of a restructuring of the industry under Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke at a time when the sector appeared to be dying because of the low production of pork.
Pigs were sourced from Canada, the major exporter of pigs worldwide, to replace Jamaica's herd of "old boars" with the new breed developed at the facility, located at the Bodles Research Station.
Stanberry made reference to the programme in response to queries on the reaffirmation of the 'Jagdeo Initiative' - which speaks to alleviating the effects of rising prices on the region's economies - coming out of a COTED meeting in December.
The Jagdeo Initiative identifies and defines key, crucial and binding constraints to agricultural repositioning, including limited financing and inadequate new investments, outdated and inefficient agricultural health and food-safety systems, inadequate research and development and a fragmented and unorganised private sector, insufficient land and water distribution and management systems, deficient and uncoordinated risk-management measures and inadequate transport systems.
"In the last couple of years, we have done a mammoth task in terms of addressing some of those constraints that affect us right here in Jamaica," said Stanberry.
Speaking specifically to advances in R&D, Stanberry said it has come through collaborations with the private sector and academia but that the process was understandably slow because "we, and not just Jamaica, but the rest of the region, will never have enough money to set up strong, independent research facilities because research is a very expensive thing".
The agriculture official said there is often criticism about the operations at the Bodles Agricultural Research Station, but he is unperturbed by it.
"Research is not a glamorous thing and some of the things we are doing, some of the varieties of things we are trying to come up with takes a long time in the laboratory," he said.