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Growth & Jobs | Government seeks to cut food import bill

Published:Tuesday | June 29, 2021 | 12:09 AM

The Government has developed, and is in the process of implementing, a national strategy to grow the agribusiness industry.

Opening the 2021-22 State of the Nation Debate in the Senate on June 25, Government Senator Don Wehby said one of the key recommendations in the strategy is the establishment of a Food Security and Agribusiness Council (FSAC).

Senator Wehby, who is group chief executive officer at GraceKennedy Limited, disclosed that in the first instance, the FSAC will execute the four-year agribusiness strategy.

It is expected that the council will be outcome-focused and will guide the implementation of the action plan developed under this strategy, and guide the development of a National Agriculture Development Plan and strategy that will ensure long-term sustainability and growth of the industry.

He said JAMPRO’s promotion of the agribusiness sector includes activities in the following areas: large-scale, climate-smart agriculture; improvement of land access; improvement in the use of technology in agriculture; and the development of marketing strategies for Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee; and the buildout of a strategy for the yam subsector.

Meanwhile, he is challenging Jamaicans to reduce the country’s food import bill by 50 per cent.

He noted that during 2019, the value of food imports was US$1 billion, with approximately 44 per cent of the imports supplied via sources in the United States.

“We need to cut that food import bill in half and I have set myself, in terms of our company, by 2030. We cannot continue to have that level of food imports in Jamaica,” he emphasised.

Senator Wehby noted that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on agriculture have been seen, underscoring that it places countries like Jamaica’s food security at risk because of the heavy reliance on imports.

He suggested that less reliance on import can be achieved by investing heavily in agro-processing, manufacturing, and agriculture,while ensuring that farmers have good crop insurance and technical training to mass-produce certain items.

“If we are going to have sustainable growth in Jamaica, we have to have a really robust agricultural sector ... ,” he said.