A leading businessman has warned that a failure to put in place proper financing arrangements for farmers could derail efforts by the agriculture ministry to achieve self-sufficiency in Irish potato production by 2015.
Last week, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries officially launched a project under which 1,250 hectares of the tuber will be planted out for the 2013-2014 crop year, through a private-public sector partnership, to which the Government will commit more than $68 million.
At the recent launch at Hope Gardens, Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke said that with local farmers producing 80 per cent of local demand for Irish potato in 2012, the country is on track to surpass that level of self-sufficiency for 2013.
Clarke pointed to the fact that importation of Irish potato has fallen from 10.5 million kilogrammes in 2008 to 3.9 million kilogrammes last year as an indication that local farmers were on target to meet the objectives.
However, addressing the function on behalf of buyers, Clifton Campbell, managing director of Fresh & Direct - a company which cultivates and markets agricultural produce - warned against putting the cart before the horse.
Said Campbell: "I think that partnering with local farmers is an excellent way to go, but [with the challenge getting support from] the commercial banks in agriculture, you can pretty much forget it. The PC (People's Co-operative) Bank has its own challenges, because it says that the money has to come from the DBJ (Development Bank of Jamaica) and that process takes a long time."
He added: "So I've asked the minister and the ministry to see if they can find a way to make funds more readily available to the second level, which is the PC Bank, for quicker access. The DBJ will tell you, though, that you must plan way ahead, which is true, but I find that the bureaucracy to get money for a crop that is now three months is too long."