We must make agriculture competitive
THE EDITOR, Sir:
Agriculture is an industry with the potential to transform Jamaica's economic fortunes. But, like other ventures, it requires private investment to succeed, and successive administrations have refused to liberate agriculture from government control.
Since several acres of land are directly under government supervision, it is easy for the agriculture minister to announce a grand plan to produce any crop of his choice on a mass scale, thus providing farmers with employment, even if they lack appropriate skills. It would be instructive for the Government to divest arable land to investors with the capital and technological ability to make the sector competitive.
Successive governments have refused to wean the sector off government financing and aid. Recently, there was a shortage of Irish potatoes and the Government decided to spend $60 million to assist farmers in making up the shortfall.
Since our farmers are private businessmen, we expect them to update their techniques and insure against risks. They cannot rely on the Government bailouts indefinitely. Jamaica has also been receiving grant funding from the European Union to subsidise sugar and banana for years, although these sectors may never relive their glory years.
FOLLOW BRITISH EXAMPLE
Instead of investing billions of dollars in social programmes for farmers and other politically expedient initiatives, the money could be used in a more productive manner. Britain recently spent over £10 million to establish a campus for food and renewable energy. The funding will provide new facilities to target companies and researchers interested in creating new products based on modern approaches to plant breeding. We should follow the British model and rebuild the College of Agriculture, Science and Education to reap greater success.
Let's not fool ourselves. Jamaica cannot survive in this global environment unless our agricultural sector becomes more innovative. Archaic agriculture is just no longer viable.