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Tufton urges Gov't not to sacrifice farmlands

Published:Tuesday | February 23, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Dr Christopher Tufton, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, is warning that Jamaica is likely to suffer economically if it continues to sacrifice farmlands to facilitate other development.

Tufton on the weekend refused to mince words as he urged his Government to expedite the formulation of a national land-use policy.

"If Jamaica's agriculture is to become a sustainable economic alternative, greater thought and planning must be put into strategic land usage to ensure that the country's most arable lands are not overrun by development that takes these arable lands out of primary production permanently," he told
The Gleaner

He complained that for years, agriculture has been the Cinderella of development and economic policy, playing second fiddle to trade and other forms of development.

Farmers marginalised

According to the minister, this has resulted in farmers being marginalised and the best farmlands being given over to permanent non-agricultural development.

Tufton said it was for this reason that the Government had moved to develop an agricultural land-use policy and an inventory of agricultural lands.

"This process has already started and is intended to standardise government agricultural land-use lease arrangements and promote meaningful agro investments using the most arable lands," Tufton said.

He noted that there was a need for the country to review its development orders and land-utilisation policy and strategically balance the need for construction and agricultural development.

"This is the intention of the proposed agricultural land-use policy and agricultural land inventory," he said.

Tufton conceded that there would always be a requirement for the Government to balance the need for using land for agricultural versus non-agricultural development, and that the Government would always be under pressure from special interests to use the country's most arable lands for non-agricultural development.

"This may be so because of population expansion and because the country's most arable lands are usually better able to facilitate profitable non-agricultural mechanisable development," he said.

Land limited

However, he warned that Jamaica's most arable lands are limited and increasingly being overrun by development that in time would threaten the sector's capacity to be competitive in certain critical crop and livestock areas and the nation's general food security thrust.

Tufton noted that Jamaica has approximately 2.7 million acres of land mass with 17 per cent of just over 440,000 acres flat and arable.

"These arable lands are able to facilitate larger-scale production and more efficient production because they are mechanisable and can access and use water more efficiently," he argued.

According to Tufton, there is another 200,000 acres of hillside lands that are considered sufficiently arable for certain crops such as fruit trees.

"The balance is marginal lands that should be focused on for housing and other forms of construction development."