EFFORTS to reel in the country’s food import bill have been intensified as the Government steps up its campaign to get Jamaicans to eat food grown and produced locally.
“We have to do something about it; it is not sustainable. We have to grow some of it here,” Agriculture minister Roger Clarke said during his address at Saturday’s opening of the Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Foods Show in May Pen, Clarendon.
He noted that the country imported some US$930 million worth of food items last year.
“So what are we (Government) doing? We are analysing what we are importing and one of the first targets that we are setting is to decrease that importation by some US$300 million,” said Clarke.
“The hotels will have to work with us, and those people who believe that they must get everything foreign, the time has come where they will have to pay, because all those waivers are going to be waived,” he continued to a roar of approval from patrons. He did not provide details about how this scheme would work, but emphasised the importance of supporting local production.
“Local production must be encouraged so that our farmers can wear good clothes, and not support the foreign farmers. Our people can produce and we are going to work with them to produce,” he continued, adding that efforts will also be made to bolster the island’s schoolfeeding programme.
Clarke also said the Government will be erecting agro-parks — self-contained farm areas aimed at wooing young Jamaicans to the sector. He, however, failed to state a definite timeline for the implementation of the programmes, offering only that they will be underway sometime this year.
Clarke’s disclosure was welcomed by Senator Norman Grant, newly re-elected president of the Jamaica Agriculture Society (JAS), which represents Jamaican farmers.
Grant, who took over the reins of the JAS at Saturday’s show, highlighted the reduction of foreign imports as one of the main tasks he will pursue during his tenure. His second major objective is to improve the trading of agricultural goods between Caribbean countries.
In the meantime, farmers were urged to look beyond the Ministry of Agriculture for aid in their fight against praedial larceny.
“The Ministry of Agriculture is not equipped to deal with criminal activities. That is the job of the police. When a man bruk shop they don’t call the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, they call the police, and so when it comes to praedial larceny the police must play a more critical role,” Clarke said.
The turnout was moderate for day one of the 60th anniversary of the Denbigh Agricultural Show, which is one of the highlights of the country’s golden jubilee celebrations.
Some stalls were resplendent with the colours of the Jamaican flag and were flocked by visitors; others offered little by way of displays and were bereft of visitors. To many patrons, the event, for the most part, offered a communal atmosphere in which to watch the women’s 100-metre finals at the London 2012 Olympics.