MAY PEN, Clarendon — President-elect of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) Senator Norman Grant has listed the establishment of a central marketing system for local farmers as his main priority for the next three years.
Grant, who previously served two consecutive terms as JAS president, was elected unopposed to succeed Glendon Harris at the association's 117th Annual General Meeting on Wednesday in Denbigh, Clarendon. He's currently a vice-president of the society.
In his acceptance speech, Grant said his team — which is completed by First Vice-President Donald Berry and Second Vice-President Ralston Johnson — will be going all out to improve the financial standing of local farmers.
"The top priority is to implement a central marketing system for the farmers," he said. "We think that too [many] products are being produced and going nowhere.
"Farmers produce and sell, but the mechanism to collect that money from the hotels is very bad. Right now [I'm trying to hire] a legal counsel... to represent a farmer in Westmoreland who is owed some $5 million by one of the hotels."
Grant, a Government senator, said he will also be "intensifying" the 'eat what you grow campaign' to support local production, food security and reduction in imports.
"What we are trying to do is create a market for the farmers because we imported $1 billion (US930m) worth of produce in Jamaica last year and that is just too much food. We are supporting foreign farmers," he told the Jamaica Observer.
"Our strategy is to partner with the Ministry of Agriculture to reduce the importation of food and get more of our farmers producing to fill that gap.
"The fact that we import of an equivalent of about 64,000 heads of goats in goat meat tells us that there is an opportunity for young people and our farmers to go into goat and sheep farming. Therefore, the JAS will be (working) with the ministry, RADA (Rural Agriculture Development Authority), farmers, hotels and the bankers to get a system like that going," he explained.
Among the other priority areas, Grant said, are an anti-praedial theft campaign, strengthening of the role of the JAS to a lobby farmers' organisation, and improving the financial standing of the society, which suffered a loss of some $85 million in the last financial year.
Grant said while not every single goal will be achieved in one term, he was confident that the JAS will be an overall improved farmers' group under his watch.
"My first two terms were (used) trying to get the JAS back on track," he said. "Last, I served as a vice-president and I got to sit back and really assess ...what are some of the things we could do better.
"This term I am re-energised to work, re-energised to do things better; and the focus will be the farmer. I want every farmer in Jamaica to be above the poverty line. I want every farmer in Jamaica to be able to send their children to school, and I will leave no stone unturned in terms of lobbying the Government and engaging the farmers," he said.
"In the three years, my term is going to be about the farmers. How can I help to better improve the quality of life of our farmers? Lobbying for better farm roads, better water supply," he said. "The rural agenda will be placed on my agenda because if we develop rural communities we will have a huge economy to tap into."