LETTER OF THE DAY - Treat agriculture like a business
THE EDITOR, Sir:
Government's role is to create an economic environment that will promote free enterprise and dynamic growth. Therefore, the Government must not be in the business of operating enterprises.
Agriculture is a business, but instead of managing it like a viable enterprise, successive administrations have perpetuated the dependency syndrome by constantly subsidising some of its industries. Although the banana industry has been the beneficiary of substantial assistance, not only is the sector still ailing, but it also lacks modernisation.
Political leaders seem not to realise that pumping funds into any sector, without making it more competitive, will not solve the problem. And to compound the issue, some farmers become perpetually reliant on Government, expecting a bailout whenever the sector is in shambles.
No politician wants to be seen as being anti-poor, but populist policies will make us all poorer in the long term. Government should treat agriculture like a business and refrain from subsidising ailing aspects of the industry.
There should be a greater focus on improving agricultural productivity through innovation and private investment. Hence, funds that are set aside for the revitalisation of failing sectors, like sugar and banana, by using the same archaic methods, must be diverted to more productive activities
For example, many young people may have ideas to transform agriculture, but they lack the capital to make their vision a reality. Since Jamaica is a recipient of agricultural aid, the Government could use this money to create an Innovation Fund for Agriculture, thereby providing youngsters with an opportunity to commercialise their ideas and develop new technologies that will make Jamaica's agriculture more competitive.
But, in order to reduce losses, applicants must be selected via a merit-based selection process, with the viability of their business plans being the major factor for selection. Technical support in the form of training and financial advice will also be offered.
Furthermore, arable lands that are owned by the State should be divested to either foreign or local investors with the capital and technology to revolutionise agriculture. Government's involvement in agriculture has been dismal and the recent controversy surrounding the agro park project is a perfect example.
Reforms are difficult to implement, but if we are interested in becoming a wealthy nation, they must be pursued.