Sat | Jul 24, 2021

Agriculture needs a climate change strategy

Published:Thursday | May 13, 2021 | 12:09 AM


IT IS long known that agriculture is integral to the health of our people, national food security and economic well-being of the nation. Despite that knowledge, we have only made little progress in advancing agriculture to its full 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 which must be addressed with urgency.

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

There is a need for significantly increased productivity and 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.

A more forthright commitment should be made to strengthen agricultural value chain in Jamaica. Immediate action to support this strategic priority should be a greater investment in research and development. For example, the Orange River Research Station in St Mary is being neglected and if one should just drive by one day, we will realise that they 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 RADA and JAS 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.

Climate change is here. The effects are real and can be extreme. There must be a national climate change strategy for the agriculture sector. This requires a collaboration of stakeholders to explore our collective vulnerabilities and opportunities, and creating a response that will give the sector a distinct advantage. We must act now or risk reacting to the consequences, to our own peril.

Agriculture is suffering because it is hopeless to look to government to drive innovation and sustainability. 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, and the students are not being prepared for agri-entrepreneurship, science and technology, research nor leadership. Who will be the transformers?

The agriculture 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 ‘bight self-centred’ who capture value only for a small group at the expense of others.

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