Bobby Pottinger, GUEST COLUMNIST
The demise of agriculture in Jamaica is caused mainly by two factors: our failure to keep up with world economic trends; and that we are now reaping the long-term disastrous effects caused by the wrong use of our agricultural lands.
Every country that makes progress and shows growth sees to it that the most valuable lands are used to produce food and other products for its people. But in this country, successive governments have used up too much of our good agricultural lands for housing, particularly in the plains of St Catherine and St James. Indeed, in St James, only the hillsides have been left for farming. You have to search hard to find cows grazing
That the Government is also moving to cover the plains of Clarendon with housing is indeed a troubling sign. Yes, housing is important, but it is the hillsides which should have been used for housing as that would cause less flooding for dwellers.
Indeed, the indiscriminate use of good agricultural land for housing, both by Government and the private sector, is having a serious imbalance on the Eat What You Grow campaign.
I am pleading with the Government. The agricultural flagship must sail right into Caymanas and Innswood, which are our last agricultural treasures.
With the cheapest generation of water for the Rio Cobre driven by gravity, Caymanas and Innswood are suitable for the growth of crops such as soya, pumpkin, Irish potatoes, bananas, and so on. Let us use some of Caymanas and Innswood lands for our prisoners to produce crops.
Let the prisoners earn a stipend from their farm work. Let them earn their paroles by how much crops they produce. And let us develop a cooperative spirit among prisoners, which would help them and the nation when their sentences are completed. It can be an incentive to reduce crime.
Because of globalisation, we have far less agricultural output and, therefore, far fewer fruits and vegetables to export. This must change, and we should go about it with the urgency of an emergency.
Our Caribbean neighbour, Venezuela, is importing potatoes from Holland in Europe, while our potato product is equal to that of Holland. Our good relations with Venezuela should be utilised for the purposes of agricultural trade, particularly with regard to potatoes.
We need to stop the importation of drinks from faraway places. We need to create a healthy drink from our overripe bananas to replace the imported drinks. We also need to continue experimenting with other fruits to produce local drinks.
But before attempting to do all of this, we need to put in place an effective programme to counter praedial larceny. One way to do this is to hire more district constables and ensure that they have enough vehicles to do their work.
We need to sensitise our higglers as to who the praedial thieves are and put in place a system to discern the people who sell agricultural produce to the market so that the crooks can be sifted out.
Domestic agriculture needs to be promoted all over the country, with the Agricultural Marketing Corporation complex located on Spanish Town Road retrofitted to facilitate the collection and sale of farm produce. The cost of imported fruits, vegetables and other produce should provide an incentive for local farmers to become more price-competitive.
I lift my hat to a local businessman who is attempting to establish a dairy enterprise in St Ann. Surely, he must be under pressure to turn his enterprise into money and close a rural land dairy and turn it into housing. But what will happen in the future if we use up most of the milk farmland for housing? Already, we are forced to import milk/milk products subsidies from the Dominican Republic and the USA.
Jamaica needs a strong land- utilisation commission that will not compromise its integrity and will supervise properly which land is for housing and which land is for farming.
Unless there is a shift from the present trend in the use of level land, we will continue to compromise the future of our current farmers as well as those who will come after. Marginal hillside lands will only condemn them to machete, hoe and fork, which is a retrograde step in today's world.
Let's get sensible and stop the madness!
Former custos of St Mary, Bobby Pottinger, is a past president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society and also served as chairman of the All Island Banana Growers Association. Email feedback to email@example.com.