JAMAICA'S agricultural sector will suffer greatly if the country withdraws from the Caribbean Community, President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) Senator Norman Grant has warned.
Speaking at yesterday's opening of the three-day, 61st Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food show in Clarendon, Grant said the country must make its relationship with the regional community work to benefit farmers.
"The farmers in Jamaica and the farmers in the region are not supporting Jamaica's withdrawal from Caricom. Caricom needs to work for the people," said Grant. "We are importing some US$6 billion worth of food. We have over 500,000 farmers; we have to make it work to benefit the farmers," Grant said.
There have been loud calls from members of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party for a temporary withdrawal from the community until Jamaica sorts out certain issues with the regional body, including trade imbalances with other member states.
However, the calls have been rejected by the Government, with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator A J Nicholson stating that the fallout from a withdrawal would be grave.
Yesterday, Grant, who is a Government senator, agreed that such a move would have severe implications.
"If we exit Caricom, other trading blocs will take up that trade and we will never recover.
"What we need to do is to sit down and get poverty out of the conversation; get systems that will work, that will enrich and empower the farmers so we can have more of our people eating what we grow and produce, rather than importing these billions of dollars of food from the other trade blocs," he said.
"Let's get on with it. Let's understand that we are agents of change, we are not here to give up," he added.
Meanwhile, he said that the JAS has employed several strategies to better capitalise on the opportunities in the regional market. He said the Global Trade Symposium, which is a feature of this year's show, is among the strategies.
"We have 30 overseas guests from Canada, Trinidad, Barbados, all across the region. This trade symposium is engaging farmers over the next three days to say 'What do you produce? What can we buy? We need to match'," he explained.
Grant, in his address, also called for stronger legislation to deal with praedial larceny, which has sent some farmers, especially in rural areas, into bankruptcy.
"We need to come down hard on praedial thieves. We need tighter laws. We need to bring them under the Proceeds of Crime Act, set up funds for their victims, and whip them (thieves)," he said.
In the meantime, Minister of Agriculture Roger Clarke said that Government will be looking to increase Jamaica's capacity to produce adequate, wholesome and healthy foods. This, while it bolsters food safety regulations.
"We have introduced the Jamaican Food and Nutrition Security Policy, which seeks to ensure that a sufficient quantity of nutritious food is available to people in Jamaica," said Clarke, who also noted that the Government will enact a food security law in the coming months.
"This will ensure that the domestic production of a minimum threshold of a selected basket of foods for which there is production capability and national comparative advantage to meet domestic food, nutrition and health goals," he explained.
Clarke commended the JAS for this year's staging of the Denbigh show, and for its establishment of a Central Marketing System, which seeks to better market goods produced in Jamaica.
"My ministry is prepared to work with the JAS to set up this facility," he said, noting that such a system will only work if farmers are willing to reorient production practices to satisfy market demands.