The elusive growth


Sunday, May 20, 2018

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Planning is very often an art, not a science. Those who practise planning as a science need to be mindful of the words of President Harry Truman, who said he wanted to deal only with one-hand economists because all the others with two hands were always telling him “on one hand and on the other”.

From 1962, after the Jamaica Labour Party won the general election, Sir Alexander Bustamante positioned me in charge of all planning for Government, except for finance, and that became part of my portfolio eventually in 1967 when the then minister of finance died and I took his place. As a result, I handled planning for Government in all its areas. This gave me a good deal of experience of the planning field. I was only 37 years old when I took the step.

I will go on the record, therefore, to say that the sectors which need planning most in Government are: agriculture and education. It is my view that until these two areas are properly planned and addressed, the country will go nowhere.

Agriculture, first of all, requires a level of intelligence that hardly exists in farming communities. The reasons for the lack of response are several:

• Perhaps the first reason is praedial larceny where the ruling principle is “I plant for you to reap”. That may be true, but modern science is making strides in overcoming this. It is now possible to put barcodes on bearing fruits and some other products so as to identify the source. This works best when the product has to be processed in a single central plant or inspection area that cannot be bypassed.

The good news is that medical marijuana is one such plant that, in the near future, barcoding will segregate from illegal specimens of the weed. This won't completely stop illegal sales, but it will make it more rewarding to grow medical marijuana than the illegal ganja.

Let us ask science if this barcoding can be applied to coffee and other products, as well as animals which are so easily stolen. It would be a great boom to agriculture.

• Vegetables which are not eaten in Jamaica but are very popular abroad, like the zucchini, are a natural. First, no one wants to steal a product which it is not possible to sell locally.

• This also applies to Sea Island cotton. It can't be eaten. It has to be processed at a central plant where it can be, among other things, identified.

These illustrations which expand the agricultural sector will also require substantial labour. These crops are located in the middle of the southern side of the island where unemployment is heaviest and flat, available land exists — some 13,000 acres. Should insufficient water be a problem, construction of a reservoir, for which plans exist using the overflow of the Rio Cobre, can provide the full requirement.

This area constitutes a block of land with several positive compatible agricultural features. They are, for instance, all foreign exchange earners, and that is important. Should Government isolate it as a special production area, it would preserve wrongful uses of the land for all the rightful benefits set out above, aided in implementation by the agricultural personnel required to guide decisions.

What I am trying to convey is that the days of individuals roaming around searching for opportunities in agriculture can be offered; more than one type of investment with the provision of labour, water, soil requirements and a marketing body offering to fill all needs of seeds, fertilisers and pesticides can be provided. One of the negative factors of agricultural investment is the puzzle of connections required to be put in place by investors not fully qualified to go ahead by themselves. This collective design will make it much simpler for participation and profit. This is the only way to lift agriculture to its true height.

This is only one such area for agricultural expansion. Other combinations of properties that are compatible for production and profit can be determined for expansion using such other crops as hemp, which is now becoming a prime investment.

None of what I have set out should prevent any individual pursuit. The establishment of one or more greenhouses to supply lettuce, for example, at much less cost than the imported product to supply not just Jamaican hotels, but the many others in the Caribbean which are still importing the more expensive product, is one which compels this as an attractive area.

Greenhouse technology, known as hydroponics for plants and aquaponics for fish, is a remarkable way to lower costs by concentrated integration of water and feed solutions for growth using computer control of the inflows.

Twenty years ago, I spoke on this subject in a budget address in Parliament in which I was able to quote multiple times more production, in some instances 30 per cent to 40 per cent. This massive leap forward is what gives far more production for the dollar. I am not speaking hypothetically; these gains were made in the only hydroponic operation of any scale in Jamaica, in which the operator — after substantial success — over-extended himself and lost his greenhouse. But one failure does not a collapse make. The idea is excellent and should be resurrected.

The bottom line is that without the revival of agriculture to at least double the current contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a meaningful increase in growth will not be possible. We are wasting precious time.

The bottom line is agricultural development is a necessary component for fulfilling quick and significant growth, because in its present run-down state the improvements can be easier to achieve.

Our agricultural planners, engineers and hydrologists need to be sent to a nation like Israel to see what a country with a high proportion of land that is not arable, and in which water is of very limited quantity, has done by sending plane loads of products to the market in Covent Gardens in London daily and still feed their own population. There is no shame in copying. The great shame is on those who have all that is needed and allow it to waste.

Someday, some people are going to wake up and say “I could-a, I should-a,” but not “I would-a”. What a big shame!

— Edward Seaga is a former prime minister of Jamaica, the chancellor of the University of Technology, Jamaica, and a distinguished fellow at The University of the West Indies

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