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Clarke's final debate

Friday, August 29, 2014    

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ROGER Clarke made his final contribution to the Budget Debate as head of the agriculture and fisheries ministry on April 23. The presentation was titled 'Continuing the Growth... Going for Export'. Here are some highlights:

EXPORT/IMPORT PERFORMANCE

"Notwithstanding the weather-related challenges I highlighted earlier, I am happy to report to this Honourable House, that non-traditional food exports increased by 5.7 per cent to US$152.7m, thanks to increased yam exports (13.3 per cent), ackee (12.0 per cent), sauces (3.2 per cent), conch and lobster (23.3 per cent), sweet potato (25.6 per cent) and pumpkin (33.3 per cent).

...In terms of imports, preliminary figures from STATIN show that food imports increased marginally by 1.5 per cent from the revised figure of US$948m in 2012, to US$962m in 2013.

...We will only begin to see sustained decline in the import bill when we would have significantly restructured the sector. For example, cereals for animal feeds, which constitute 30 per cent of our import bill, can only be reduced when we make some significant breakthrough in developing indigenous substitutes. There were also other factors. The sustained drought in 2013 significantly affected local forage production and increased our reliance on concentrate feed to sustain the livestock sector."

THE TRADITIONAL SUB-SECTOR

Sugar

"Mr Speaker, I am confident and optimistic that based on the investment in field and factory rehabilitation and new planting by both the estate and independent cane farmers, we are going to achieve significantly more sugar production in the short to medium term. We must, however, not lose sight of the critical imperative to step up our diversification efforts into the many co-products that the sugar can produce - refined sugar, co-generation, ethanol, etc.

We must also look at our regional markets in light of the cessation of guaranteed prices in the European market after 2017. Many of our lower-cost competitors are now gaining the same duty-free and quota-free access we now have with the EU market. Our salvation rests in satisfying the demand of our local and regional markets. The region, for instance, consumes over 300,000 tonnes of refined sugar, all supplied from external sources when, in fact, we have the capacity to produce that very same amount here in Jamaica."

Coffee

"Mr Speaker, the level of coffee imports is frightening (1,362 tonnes over the last 2 years). Our high-quality coffee is exported, and we import lower-quality coffee for the local market. I want to reverse that. I want to increase production to satisfy both our export demand, as well as to allow Jamaicans to be able to consume our own local Blue Mountain coffee.

Mr Speaker, notwithstanding the issues facing the sector, with the complete privatisation of the industry, coffee production increased in 2013 by 4.8 per cent, from 6,687 tonnes to 6,984 tonnes. Mr Speaker, another promise kept, delivered and exceeded."

Cocoa

"Mr Speaker, I am positively excited about the prospects of the cocoa industry and anxiously await the investment that will come with privatisation. In tandem with the divestment, we are working assiduously to restructure the regulatory framework so that appropriate licences will be issued to potential and future traders of cocoa. Mr Speaker, we have almost doubled production in the 2013/2014 crop year — another promise kept and delivered."

Banana

"Mr Speaker, as I indicated last year, the full impact of Hurricane Sandy on banana production would have been felt in 2013. It is not surprising, therefore, that production in 2013 was 33,295 tonnes, down from 47,473 tonnes in the previous year. Despite the decline, in the circumstances, we believe that this was a remarkable comeback within a one-year period. It speaks to the resilience and commitment on the part of our small farmers. It speaks also to the success of the interventions by the ministry."

Agro-Parks

"The agro-parks are intended to attract large farmers with the capital, expertise and technological savvy to engage best practices in order to significantly increase production and productivity so as to enhance agricultural competitiveness. We have to pursue this goal with the greatest vigour, whilst maintaining support to our small farmers. Mr Speaker, simply put, the agro-parks must be a game-changer!"

Cattle

"Mr Speaker, notwithstanding the above, we are pressing on with initiatives to increase milk production and structurally change the production base. In this regard, the Jamaica Dairy Development Board, from its cess resources, has allocated some $28m which has supported the expansion of fodder production by 40 hectares (100 acres), including 24 hectares (60 acres) in our Bodles/Hounslow Research Stations that would be used as a model.

Additionally, we have procured and made available to dairy farmers, critical equipment valued at approximately $17m for the preparation of fodder. Some $20m has been used to purchase some 300 dairy heifers that were destined for slaughter, with the objective of distributing said heifers to tertiary institutions and select farmers to support an increase in milk production.

With respect to the institutions, the Jamaica Dairy Development Board is committed to work with the College of Agriculture, Science and Education, Ebony Park HEART Academy and the Knockalva and Sydney Pagon Agricultural Schools to revamp and upgrade their dairy programme, with equipment, technical support and stock.

Mr Speaker, we must return our agricultural tertiary institutions to a state where they not only train competent and functional agricultural specialists, but expose them to entrepreneurship. This is particularly poignant for the dairy industry, which is experiencing an alarming attrition of older farmers with no replacement in sight."

Youth in agriculture

"We will only achieve renewal and continuity in the agricultural sector to the extent that we can attract youths to and retain them in the sector. This is particularly important against the background of an aged farming population, and if we are going to infuse modern technology into the sector.

Within this context, we have to be deliberate in attracting and retaining youths. Last year, I announced that we would reserve, on a pilot basis, some 40 hectares (100 acres) of land in our agro-parks exclusively for young people with agricultural knowledge and expertise.

Mr Speaker, I am pleased to announce that we have selected 20 young people and we have allocated to each of them five acres in the Ebony Park Agro-Park. We have further secured from the private sector and the University of the West Indies commitments to provide working capital to these young entrepreneurs, who will be producing various crops under secured marketing arrangements. They will commence production as soon as we roll out the irrigation infrastructure this year in the earmarked section of Ebony Park."

Fisheries

"Mr Speaker, let me say that my biggest disappointment as Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries is our failure to enact a new Fisheries Bill that has been in the making for several years now. Whilst I appreciate and commend this Honourable House for passing a record 42 Bills in the last Parliament, we have to bring the Fisheries Bill into this parliamentary year.

This Bill will provide the framework for the proper regulation of the sector and efficient and effective management of our fisheries resources. The challenges to our marine resources due to overexploitation are well-documented. We therefore continue to support the maintenance of our 14 declared sanctuaries, and I am advised that already we are seeing a rejuvenation of the stock in these protected areas.

Mr Speaker, in an effort to bolster our surveillance and monitoring of our vast marine space, and also to increase safety at sea, the Ministry is in consultation with the Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard and the Marine Police to acquire two drones. These drones will be fitted with cameras and be deployed as necessary, and will have the capacity to transmit data back to base which will assist in detecting and deterring poachers, as well as assist with search and rescue at sea. This is to be funded by a private sector entity."

Praedial larceny

"Mr Speaker, praedial larceny continues to be a vexing issue. Given the interest of a wide range of stakeholders in this issue, we convened a Stakeholders' Strategy Workshop to look holistically at this issue. Mr Speaker, the attendance at the workshop was overwhelming and the participation was excellent. On the basis of those consultations we emerged with a four-pronged approach to the treatment of this matter. Mr Speaker, we have identified and agreed on a comprehensive slew of amendments to the Agricultural Produce Act and the Praedial Larceny Prevention Act, to directly place penalties for Praedial Larceny under this principal legislation, to simplify the procedures for licensing all actors along the food chain as well as to impose stiffer fines. The necessary drafting instructions are being finalised to be presented to Cabinet for approval of the issuing of drafting instructions."

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