February 28, 2014
Can agriculture regain a role as a main anchor to national development?

Fri Feb 28, 2014

The business of agriculture has within recent times been getting renewed and welcomed attention from quite a number of stakeholders, including government, the main opposition party, farmers organisations, private sector entities and overseas development partners.{{more}}

Taken by themselves, the individual interventions may not be earth shattering, but the concentrated nature of the activities, the range of actors and the growing optimism in the sector which the activities seem to be generating, are difficult to ignore. Is this just a phase, or are we looking at agriculture again adopting a role as a main anchor to national development?

A sample of the recent developments will include government’s launch this month of the Farmers Support Company, with a primary mandate to oversee a Revolving Loan Scheme, capitalised by an initial six million dollar cash injection. We understand there have already been almost 2000 expressions of interest from within the farming community for the low interest loans.

The opposition New Democratic Party, which has been campaigning heavily on an agricultural platform, primarily the decline in the banana sector, stepped up activities this week with an agricultural consultation scheduled for yesterday in Chapmans, one of the main agricultural areas – which incidentally is also in the constituency of the current agriculture minister.

When the regional coordinator for the international Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Dr. Deep Ford dropped in from his Barbados office with just over US$300 thousand to assist the agricultural sector’s flood recovery efforts, he also came loaded with recommendations, among which was pushing cassava cultivation, with an eye on its value-added by-products, including cassava flour for bread making, which, while not new, has spiked interest. The ensuing discussions have also pointed to the recent announcement by Jamaica’s main beer company of plans for large scale cassava production to provide a substitute for current imported inputs. Several farming groups are reporting increased interest among farmers in getting back into banana cultivation, lifted by the apparent containment, if not elimination, of the Black Sigatoka and Moko diseases. Arrowroot industry officials are also reporting a higher than expected level of demand by new farmers to get into cultivation, to the extent that they are projecting output to double next year.

This week as well, representatives of the European Union, the financiers of the BAM (Banana Accompanying Measures) project were in town, as several elements of that project, relating to bananas, livestock, fruits and vegetables, new marketing arrangements, and infrastructural development, have become ready for implementation phase.

Beyond the food security which a vibrant agricultural sector provides, there are the clear benefits of provision of much needed rural incomes and putting a dent into the high unemployment levels. It is heartening to hear the optimism stakeholders hold for the export opportunities in the regional market and beyond. It would be a double blessing to producers if firm, well-structured marketing arrangements can also be negotiated with the local hotel, yachting, and cruise sectors, as well as local supermarkets and restaurants to absorb a bigger slice of the local output, while at the same time reducing the multi-million dollar food import bill.

Whatever is driving the current thrust, and whatever challenges still exist or may arise, there can be no doubt the efforts must be sustained and built upon.