Agriculture can lead Jamaica's economic growth — Seaga

Ganja is queen

BY KARENA BENNETT
Business reporter
bennettk@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, January 25, 2019

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WHILE focus has been shifted to the Mining and Quarrying industry with the reopening of Alpart, former Prime Minister of Jamaica Edward Seaga is adamant that improved efficiencies in the country's agriculture sector will significantly turn around growth prospects for Jamaica.

Seaga, who was speaking at the 14th Regional Investments and Capital Markets Conference of the Jamaica Stock Exchange at the Jamaica Pegasus on Wednesday, outlined 14 crops which he reckons will not only improve Jamaica's trade balance, but could also be another area for local companies and Jamaicans alike to raise capital through agricultural listings on the stock market.

“Getting to the stock exchange needs more companies that can get on the stock exchange. That's how you make stock exchange grow and that's how it can contribute to growth. But if you leave all these plants here and there in the ground, instead of creating orchids and plantations, it's not going to help the stock exchange and it's not going to help Jamaica,” Seaga said. He was speaking on the topic: 'Re-engineering integration across the region: Using the exchanges as the engine of growth'.

Seaga, who served as prime minister from 1980-1989, listed crops such as coffee, cocoa, passion fruit, scotch bonnet pepper, Sea Island cotton, the ortanique, Ugli, castor oil, bamboo, and the leucaena trees on the island with major potential for growth.

“A particular plant that I have been fostering is the leucaena. It grows 20 feet in one year and if you cut it down, it grows back 20 feet the next year. It's a magnificent agricultural item because it fixes nitrogen in the soil around it and it can also be used as a barrier for soil erosion.

According to Seaga, the leaves of the leucaena plant are particularly useful in areas such as feed for animals as well as the fermenting and production of methane which is used in the production of electricity.

“But the wood is the most virtual of it all. When you cut a tree down you pile it into stocks of wood; Europe is in desperate need for wood. They have utilised their forests and they need wood to do what the forest used to do. There it is, huge market,” he said.

Currently, Jamaica produces roughly five acres of the plant. As for the production of hemp, Seaga believes that the country will, one day, get to the production of a million acres of the plant in a bid to satisfy global demand.

“The queen of them all, ganja. This plant has about 600 varieties and it is good for various types of ailments, from the heart right down to mosquito repellent. That plant has a future that is blowing over the people who have already got into the industry in terms of demand. I have an association with one of the big companies that is in the industry. I know their plans and where we are going in this country,” Seaga said.

“I'm asking you to think about these things. None of these products are strange to us. We see them everyday but nobody thinks about what we can do with them. If you think hard enough you'll find that these are gems,” he continued.

The former prime minister argued that with the country's current trade deficit, it is imperative that the Government, along with the private sector, find alternative methods to earn foreign exchange.

“We import several times as much as export; one day we will face serious problems. The day is going to come when the reserves of the Bank of Jamaica are going to be quietly reduced because there is just not enough to pay for the raw materials and other things that we need for growth,” he said. “So let us prepare for that day from now.”


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