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Jamaica strong investor in agricultural R&D - report

Published:Friday | April 25, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Richard Browne, Business Reporter

Jamaica's agriculture is ahead of the game when it comes to the percentage of agricultural GDP spent on research and development in the Latin American and Caribbean region (LAC), according to a new IDB report released on Wednesday.

Jamaica invests almost a third of its agricultural GDP in research and development, which ranks it ahead of most of the 20 countries covered by the Inter-American Development Bank, said the IDB report titled The Next Global Breadbasket - How Latin America can Feed the World.

"Countries in the LAC need to greatly expand their commitments to agricultural research and focus on getting new skills and new technologies into the hands of farmers," the report says.

"Studies indicate that for the LAC region, investments in agricultural research are highly correlated with increases in economic growth, agricultural development and poverty reduction, with returns averaging 43 per cent in the countries examined with the adoption of new technologies by farmers having a positive effect on farm income and on soil conservation."

HIGHER RETURNS

It adds that the returns on public investment in agricultural research is higher than most other forms of public spending as well as private capital investment.

Jamaica's R&D spend at one-third eclipses countries like Mexico at about 15 per cent; Brazil, 20 per cent, and Peru, more than 20 per cent.

Belize is at the bottom of the list. It spends nothing on R&D.

However, Jamaica trails Dominican Republic, whose spend is equivalent to 60 per cent of GDP. Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia and Honduras are also ahead of Jamaica.

"In the LAC region, for every US$100 in goods produced by the agricultural sector, there is only US$1.10 invested in agricultural research, which historically pays an enormous return on such investments over the medium and longer terms," said the IDB report.

"In more developed economies, this investment tends to be more than three times that amount."

The greatest proportion of Jamaica's spend, about a third, is invested in infrastructure. A quarter is funnelled to agricultural schools, a tenth on inspection service, and a sliver of about two per cent goes toward marketing and promotion.

Dominican Republic spends 10 per cent on agricultural schools, 10 per cent on infrastructure and 20 per cent on inspection services, and nothing on marketing.

The report reflects a "single clarion call to scale up investments and policies to power the LAC region's future as a leading player in global agriculture", Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the IDB, said in a statement published with the report.

"A vision of Latin America as the world's breadbasket is coming into focus. That is good news for the region's economic growth and for its own efforts to reduce poverty and hunger. And its great news for global food security," said Moreno.

FEW NAMED FROM REGION

The Caribbean hardly features in the report, which focuses more on large agricultural producers. Only three Caribbean countries are covered - Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Cuba, Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname do not feature either.

The report also featured Jamaica in a clipping from The New York Times of a story headlined 'As Cost of Importing Food Soars Jamaica turns to the Earth', from August 2013.

The news report states that "as the country's food imports have become a billion-dollar threat to finances and health, Jamaica has taken on a bold new strategy: make farming patriotic and ubiquitous, behind homes, hospitals, schools, even prisons".

Meanwhile, the risk of a global food security crisis is increasing.

"Global population growth combined with dramatic diet changes will, over the next several decades, place great stress of agriculture and food systems worldwide. The potential for skyrocketing food prices and widespread hunger is enormous," the report says.

"To meet the expected demand, governments and producers must work together to create environ-mentally sustainable, market-driven systems of agriculture and food production."

The LAC region is considered key in improving global food security.

"With nearly a third of both the world's arable land and fresh water, Latin America may well hold the key to a solution to the world's food security challenges," said the IDB report.

"The region's export prowess is already being demonstrated in real terms, from the vast grain farms of Brazil to the meat-packing plants of Argentina and Uruguay and on the small coffee plantations of Central America, the asparagus fields of Peru and the maize fields of Mexico," said Moreno.

"Despite all this, LAC has merely scratched the surface of its ability to produce food for its own people and for the world at large," the IDB president said.

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