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Sectoral debate - Clarke wants more focus on cassava

Published:Thursday | May 9, 2013 | 12:00 AM

 Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

DESPITE A massive decline in the production of cassava on the island, Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke is talking up the potential of the tuber, saying it can be a main ingredient in food for consumption.

The production of bitter cassava declined from 7,522 tonnes in 2011 to 6,036 tonnes last year, a 19.8 per cent fall-off, data from the latest Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica has indicated.

At the same time, the production of sweet cassava fell by 7.9 per cent from 13,011 tonnes to 11,984 over the same period.

"The Trinidadians came here the other day and they brought bread for me and they told me that 30 per cent of that bread had cassava in it, and you would never discern that cassava was in it," Clarke said.

He suggested that it could be used alongside other crops in the school-feeding programme.

In 2008, the then government encouraged mass cultivation of cassava saying it had tremendous potential to boost economic growth and improve food security. The production of sweet cassava moved from 8,250 tonnes in 2008 to 13,011 tonnes in 2011. In the case of bitter cassava, its production moved from 6,741 tonnes in 2008 to 7,522 in 2011.

In the meantime, Clarke, who was speaking in the Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives yesterday, said the country was moving in the right direction to grow agriculture.

He said the exports of food increased by 22.3 per cent from US$224 in 2011 to US$274 million last year.

The minister said the current economic conditions present an opportunity for players in the sector.

"Our high unsustainable food import bill provides a significant opportunity for import substitution. The devaluation of the Jamaican dollar need not be a death knell, but should serve as an encouragement for more export," Clarke said.

The food-import bill last year was measured at US$959 million, up from US$938 million in 2011.

The minister, however, boasted of a massive reduction in the importation of several food items, chief among them being cucumber, pork, carrot, sweet pepper, lettuce and watermelon.

Estates fall off

According to Clarke, in the past year the importation of cucumber fell by 69.4 per cent, pork by 37.4 per cent, carrot 41.5 per cent, watermelon 20.5, sweet pepper 28.5 and lettuce 67.8 per cent.

Meanwhile, Clarke has said the Chinese-owned sugar estates have fallen off in the production of sugar.

The minister said sugar is this year projected at 125,000 tonnes compared with 131,589 tonnes last year.

He said the factories, owned by the Chinese, produced 65,000 tonnes of sugar last year but this year production fell to 54,000. According to Clarke, the agronomic practices on the Complant-operated farms are less than desirable. He said the Government was committed to working with the company to help it improve production.