Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
TWO ITEMS which are critical ingredients in animal feed are high on the list of items imported in 2011 and were major contributors "to the US$938-million food bill that year.
Government data indicates that the country spent approximately US$79 million to import 18,000 tonnes of corn for animal feed, and a further US$26.5 million on soya bean oil cake, another feed ingredient in 2011.
"We are not going to be able put a dent in it, but we see when we analyse that, of the $1 billion being imported, we can cut into it by about US$300 million," Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke told the House of Representatives recently. He was responding to questions tabled by J.C. Hutchinson, opposition spokesman on agriculture.
The minister acknowledged that, owing to the basket of food imports, Jamaica will continue to dole out hard currency to get them into the island. He said, however, that a change in eating habits, as well as a focus on improving things such as fish stock, could lead to a reduction in the amount of money being spent on imports.
"If you look at what is being imported - the rice, the flour, the cornmeal, fish products and some meats - those are really some of the major ones. If you look at it also, you will see that we imported US$85 million worth of sugar last year," Clarke said.
He added: "We are not even producing enough to satisfy our markets abroad, much less the local consumption, but with the divestment (of sugar assets) and the level of expenditure, we are targetting a figure of 350 tonnes within the next three to four years."
In the area of fisheries, Clarke said the ministry has joined forces with aquaculture personnel in a bid to increase production.
"One of the main reasons we have not been able to bring down the cost of production is because of the genetics. We have not had an infusion of new genes into our fish stock over the past few years," he said.
But Hutchinson says he does not detect a clear strategy from the Government for the reduction in the country's food-import bill.
"The whole agricultural sector needs to be structured in such a way where we look at getting to the small farmers. They are the ones that are going to have to drive the process. They are the ones that are going to have to be the catalyst for the growth we are going to have," Hutchinson argued.
According to Hutchinson, Jamaica will only be able to make serious inroads into the massive food-import bill when small farmers are given the assistance to produce for both local and overseas markets. He pointed to the growing of herbs and spices for exports, as well as increasing the cultivation of yam and sweet potato for exports, as being critical to a food-security strategy.
Hutchinson said putting in place a transportation system to move staples around the island would cut down on the importation of rice and the other staples.
In the meantime, faced with the massive bill, local producers such as Jamaica Broilers have decided to grow their own animal feed locally.
Clarke noted that the "excessive increase in the price of imported corn drove Jamaica Broilers to go into corn production".
Jamaica's 2011 Food Import Bill
|Refined sugar||170,000 tonnes||124 million|
|Wheat and wheat products||150,000 tonnes||66 million|
|Corn for animal feed||18,000 tonnes||79 million|
|Rice||92,000 tonnes||66 million|
|Soya bean oil cake (for animal feed)||44,000 tonnes||26.5 million|
|Chicken neck and back||30,000 tonnes||20.6 million|
|Cane sugar||21,000 tonnes||19 million|
|Molasses||16,500 tonnes||3.9 million|
|Onions||9,000 tonnes||4.6 million|
|Irish potatoes||4,500 tonnes||2.1 million|