Farmers urged to work smarter not harder
PRESIDENT of the St James Branch Associations of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) Glendon Harris is urging farmers to tap into the lucrative agro-processing market in the parish as well as on the international scene.
According to Harris, the agro-processing sector can be the answer to economic independence for the farmers in the parish.
Harris, who is also mayor of Montego Bay, is therefore urging farmers to immediately take advantage of the value-added opportunities which are available in the agricultural sector.
The parish, he said, has been producing more than its fair share of agricultural products, and selling on the local market and to the hotel industry is just not enough to dispose of the produce.
He pointed out that ginger production in the parish has been improving and the product is in high demand. However, Harris said demand for value-added ginger on the international market is rapidly increasing.
"Ginger production in the parish has got to the level where the farmers can earn more than $50 per pound for the product. However, if we are able to properly package and even process the product, we should be able to rake in significantly more money. We would be able to employ some of our young people in the packaging and processing sector, which would ensure that the wealth is shared," Harris said.
He also encouraged persons who are travelling miles in search of employment to start looking for work in the agricultural sub-sector or even becoming farmers themselves.
"Our young people are leaving our communities and spending over $600 per day to earn $7,500 per week. This is counter-productive and if these people seek employment in the agricultural sector or even start a farm for themselves, they could become financially independent. Opportunities are available in agriculture and we need to take advantage of them before they are snapped up by persons who have no real long-term commitment to the sector or the parish," he argued.
He further pointed out that the financial investment in some aspects of adding value to agricultural products is not much even as he cited examples of what he calls creatively adding value, such as selling callaloo, which is already cleaned and cut; roasting breadfruits, corn and yam and selling them; as well as even peeling and bagging sugar cane.
"The time has come for the farmers of St James to start working smarter...not harder. We have come a far way in terms of improving the farming technology, the varieties of crops that are planted, our reaping processes and even our marketing strategies. We have to move to the next level of earning from all areas of agriculture, including the largely untapped value-added agro-processing sector," he said.
Harris noted that Jamaica has been importing US$900 million of agricultural products each year and if the country is able to produce more than the current six per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in agricultural products, the economy and its people will be financially independent.
Jamaica, he says, can reduce its food import bill, while securing a greater share of the export market, if farmers remain focused and committed to the sector.
"The agricultural sector employs more than 220,000 people and if we are able to get more people in the sector and if we are able to tap into the value-added sector of the industry, we will be able to move the six per cent of GDP up to about 15 per cent . We are sitting on a potential gold mine and we must take immediate steps to reap the rich rewards that are available," he said.
According to Harris, Jamaican agricultural products will continue to be popular on the international market and as such, efforts must be made to improve the quality and quantity in order to satisfy the demand.