Sun | Sep 19, 2021

Letter of the Day | Agriculture in Ja is being mortgaged for too long

Published:Friday | February 26, 2021 | 12:08 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

It is long known that agriculture is integral to the health of our people, national food security and economic well-being. Despite that knowledge, we have only made little progress in advancing agriculture to its vibrant capacity. Now, more than ever, new opportunities have presented themselves to tackle agriculture in a way we have not done for many years.

To help build the agriculture sector there are some imperatives that must be addressed with urgency.

First, farmers must seek to become more entrepreneurial and see farming as a business. Therefore, there is a need for planning, budgeting, strategies to grow profits while managing risk.

There is a need to significantly increase productivity and have a more consistent supply of produce and agricultural by-products. There is an urgent need to look at practical ways of increasing yield to make farming more viable. We can do it; we must do it, or we run the risk of paying lip service to the detriment of our collective progress.

GREATER INVESTMENT IN RESEARCH

A more forthright commitment should be made to strengthen the agricultural value chain in Jamaica. Immediate action to support this strategic priority should be greater investment in research and development, e.g., the Orange River research station in St Mary is being neglected. We have the expertise to tackle the cocoa frosty pod disease, and space to grow more than three million fruit trees for distribution in Jamaica and the Caribbean. Additionally, the Rural Agricultural Development Authority and the Jamaica Agricultural Society extension services should be radically transformed, mandating officers to work with farmers to increase productivity along the agriculture value chain while taking steps to reduce or eliminate importation.

NATIONAL CLIMATE CHANGE STRATEGY

Climate change and its effects are real and can be extreme. There must be a national climate change strategy for the sector. This requires a collaboration of stakeholders to explore collective vulnerabilities and opportunities and creating a response that will give the sector a distinct advantage.

The Government can and will only do so much and no more. It is the entrepreneurs who will drive innovation and support sector transformation.

The mega issue is we continue to have these transformational expectations, but who will drive it? Small farmers can’t, the students are not being prepared for agri-entrepreneurship, science and technology, research nor leadership. Who will be the transformers?

The sector also suffers a real paralysis in leadership. It generally has people who are ‘just farmers’ with average business acumen or strategic business interest, or the ‘bright self-centred’ who can only reach a small group.

The sector will remain underdeveloped until there is a better spread in the middle.

FABIAN RHULE

Farmer

President – St Mary ABS

Board Member – Jamaica

Agricultural Society