AGRICULTURE Minister Roger Clarke has issued an appeal to Jamaicans to consume more pork in a bid to rescue hundreds of pig farmers who are struggling to find markets for their meat.
The appeal comes as the Jamaica Pig Farmers Association (JPFA) intensifies calls for the Government to place a ban on the importation of the product, as they believe such a move would result in them being able to find local markets for their produce.
The farmers, who gathered in Mandeville last Thursday for the association's Annual General Meeting, complained that after being encouraged to go into production, they are now unable to identify purchasers.
They also complained that the glut has resulted in a decline in the price of pork at a time when electricity costs and feed prices are spiralling out of control.
But in his response to the pig farmers, the agriculture minister told the gathering that he had not been facilitating the importation of pork, and asserted that pork products are only allowed into the country when local producers are unable to satisfy demand.
He added that before approval is given to any importer, checks are made with the executive of the pig farmers association, to determine whether such approval should be granted.
Clarke pointed out that despite immense pressure from importers, he has only given approval for the importation of a quantity of pigs tail, and bellies; which are used in the production of bacon.
The minister made it clear that based on the prevailing situation, no approval will be given to persons who may be planning to import pork legs or other sections for the production of Christmas hams.
While empathising with the pig farmers, Clarke suggested that the demand for pork could pick-up in the upcoming winter tourist season, and if more Jamaicans eat the protein on a regular basis.
The agriculture minister told the farmers that even though he has turned down requests from many local importers, he has also had to respond to enquiries from representatives of the United States Department of Agriculture, who, according to him, are seeking to get Jamaica to import pork from that country.
"I had to tell them that we are supporting your (US) pork in a very significant way. What we have done is to tell the two million Jamaicans abroad to eat as as much US pork as is humanly possible," said Clarke, to much laughter from the pig farmers."
"It cannot be that we have pork in abundance in Jamaica, and then we are importing to put on top of it. It can't work like that," he acknowledged.
He declared that the Jamaican government was not prepared to allow global trade regulations to destroy the local pig industry, as happened in the mid-90s when Jamaicans opted for cheap milk powder imports at the expense of the local dairy sector.
"If we are to deal with Jamaica's food security, we have to do some unusual things," said Clarke as he encouraged Jamaicans to support the country's pig farmers.
Meanwhile, Clarke used the event to highlight the need for members of the local scientific community to conduct more research into the use of indigenous materials in the production of animal feeds.
He made reference to work done at the Ministry's research station at Bodles in St Catherine, where cassava was used as in the production of animal feeds.
According to Clarke, that project was successful, and proved that local livestock could be grown on feeds produced from cassava.
Clarke also encouraged pig farmers and other farmers to explore corn production, in light of the massive increase in the price of animal feeds.
Local feed manufacturers have attributed the price hikes to rapid movements in the price of corn, brought on by severe drought conditions in sections of the United States.
The agriculture minister also heaped praises on the Jamaica Broilers Group and the principals of the soon-to-be-opened Sweet River Abattoir, both of whom are investing heavily in the production of corn in an effort to reduce their dependence on the imported grain.