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Clarke reports 20% production increase in agri sector

BY JEDIAEL CARTER Observer writer carterj@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, June 10, 2014    

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AFTER two years in recovery, the agricultural sector has seen a 20 per cent increase in production, according to Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke.

The sector, he said, experienced a decline in production after Hurricane Sandy damaged sections of the island, resulting in crop and livestock losses that eventually cost the country approximately $1.5 billion in recovery.

Clarke told the Denbigh Agricultural Show launch last Wednesday that three months after the hurricane, the sector saw an increase of five per cent. The second and third quarters recorded increases of 13 and 18 per cent, respectively.

Clarke expressed optimism that the sector will continue to grow because of the strategies being implemented to address some of the issues.

"We have developed substantial areas with irrigation because that is one of the main drawbacks we have had over time. Farmers have always had to depend on rainfall," Clarke told guests attending the launch at the Hi-Pro Ace Supercentre in White Marl, St Catherine.

He said that under the Government's climate change adaptation programme the ministry will be placing ponds in areas which have already been mined by the bauxite companies to help remedy the irrigation problem.

Minister Clarke also said his ministry, in association with the bauxite companies, will be placing greenhouses around the ponds to start production in those areas.

The ministry is also looking to decrease the number of Irish potatoes imported to make fries, as last year, approximately $900 million worth of those potatoes were imported, Clarke said. This type of potato, he said, can be grown and produced in Christiana, Manchester. As such, the ministry aims to facilitate large-scale production.

Clarke also reported that last year the country was self-sufficient in table potatoes to the end of August.

"Our storerooms are bursting at the seems with locally grown table Irish potato," Clarke said, adding that the ministry is working to increase exports to the US and the UK. In addition, the agriculture ministry is working in tandem with the Ministry of Education to introduce local products in our schools.

At the same time the Ministry of Agriculture, in an effort to revive the dairy industry, will be distributing dairy animals to various agricultural institutions with the hope of attracting more youth into the sector.

Among all this, Clarke boasted that the country will this year produce its highest volume of sugar in seven years, while ginger production will be at its highest in 25 years.

"This year we are going to be producing 148 thousand tonnes of sugar, 20,000 more than last year," Clarke said.

Minister Clarke insisted that the agricultural sector plays a critical role in the country's development and is a viable means through which the country will see growth.

"The only way we are going to get ourselves out of the predicament that we are in, as far as the economy is concerned, is to grow our way out of it," Clarke said.

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