A call to action by the agricultural sector is being echoed across the reaches of Jamaica. First, there was a rallying cry for the expansion of honey production by no less a person than Minister of Agriculture Roger Clarke, who told of our inability to respond to the demand.
And lately, food conglomerate GraceKennedy Limited urged increased production of peppers. And sector interests have also, from time to time, made a pitch for other produce such as ackee, cocoa and cassava.
Too often we have heard the rejoinder: There is no future in farming. But Jamaica remains an agricultural country and farming must still be seen as the primary engine of rural economic development. Though it is desirable and prudent to apply new technologies to the cultivation of crops and livestock rearing, it cannot be imagined that Jamaica will have become an industrialised country any time soon. So the answer is to put idle farm lands to work by investing in incentive schemes that will entice farmers back to the soil.
However, it cannot be business as usual, depending on the old methods of production, where sweat equity in the searing sunshine defines productivity. Twenty-first-century farming must undergo fundamental transformation. And for farming communities to survive and prosper, they must embrace a new and different model of rural development built around local agricultural resources. Currently, many rural farming communities are under threat - impoverished and slowly withering away.
Even as we contemplate a borrowing relationship with the International Monetary Fund, it is evident that the economic crisis is threatening to crush the middle class and put many people out of work. How, then, can the farmer lobby and the Government package the message for the young generation that farming is a viable and profitable career option? And is it possible, as some people argue, that the private sector will decide to lead this charge?
Already, private-sector partnerships are being developed with farmers to assist them to gain access to fertilisers, pesticides and quality seeds. There needs to be much more of this kind of collaboration. Change is required on a massive scale to create employment, especially for the youth, and a vibrant agricultural sector has to be viewed as an extremely important component of rural development strategy.
Agricultural theft is a persistent problem that has to be tackled. And many measures tried by Government have failed to really deter the thieves. Hope for farm security seems to lie in employing high-tech (and expensive) detection equipment and perhaps in establishing vibrant neighbourhood watches, as well as more vigorous policing by law enforcers.
For the renaissance to come about in rural communities, there has to be a shared vision of hope and a confidence that once people begin to produce, their products will find ready markets. Parish councils should be providing the nucleus for this shared vision by demonstrating that the new leadership understands something about the demands of rural development.
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