Farmers urged to view Caricom markets as a part of supply chain

Farmers urged to view Caricom markets as a part of supply chain

BY KELLARAY MILES
Business reporter
milesk@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, April 03, 2020

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As local farmers complain of having excess produce and a lack of market for their produce, they are being encouraged to take advantage of neighbouring Caricom markets as several of these regional counterparts rely heavily on imports.

In a number of recent reports local farmers have bemoaned the fact that they have excess tonnes of produce—some of which is wasting due to the closure of their primary market—the hotel industry — which has been temporarily closed as they seek to mitigate impacts of the coronavirus disease.

Richard Pandohie, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) called on farmers and manufacturers alike to expand their thinking and begin to look at export and agro-processing capacities—not limited to those existing locally but including others in the Caricom market.

“We need to aggressively expand the overseas markets for our farmers in the region. The rest of Caricom imports 80 per cent of their food approximately US$4 billion,” he told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.

Although the Caribbean region has fertile lands that could produce agricultural exports — as has already been remarked upon by Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley — many of the countries in the region continue to import most of the food consumed by their citizens.

With a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report noting that its “estimated US$4.75 billion 2018 food import bill [for the Caricom region] is expected to increase to US$8-10 billion by 2020,” the JMEA president emphasised the need for more to be done by Government along with the relevant stakeholders to put better measures in place in order to feed their country and even others.

“Guyana, Haiti, and Belize are the only Caricom member countries producing more than 50 per cent of the food they consume. The present food import figure for the region represents upwards of 60 per cent of total food consumption for almost all Caricom members, with half of them importing more than 80 per cent of the food they consume,” the report outlined.

Jamaica is among those listed with a hefty food import bill which currently may be well over the US$1 billion seen in 2019.

Last year the country's imports went up by 3.9 per cent and exports fell by an even larger margin of 15.6 per cent as indicated by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) international merchandise trade bulletin.

A NEED FOR MORE COMPREHENSIVEPOLICY FRAMEWORK

Pandohie who has always voiced his concerns about the high volume of food imports when so much is produced locally said that the current situation with which farmers are faced is a troubling one that requires urgent attention.

Noting that there was no silver bullet in addressing the challenges, he asserted the need for the Government to get more creative with the requisite policy frameworks so that we can begin to 'grow what we eat, eat what we grow' and even supply other markets where possible.

“Government needs to set a food security target and use this to manage the import policy to facilitate local production where it can be shown that these crops and livestock can be produced with some level of comparative advantage locally,” he shared with the Caribbean Business Report whilst pointing out that this could bring about long-term and greater benefits for the country including increased export earnings and a general reduction in the food import bill.

He also underscored the need for a comprehensive agro-industrial policy framework possessing incentives to boost research and development (R&D) investment in primary and value-added production.

“A vibrant agro-processing [manufacturing] sector, underpinned by R&D and the use of technology will expand the markets for primary agricultural products, add value by vertically integrating primary production and food processing systems, minimise post-harvest losses and create a farming ecosystem that will be sustainable, resilient and profitable,” he said.


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