Columns

Jamaican agriculture needs more energy and excitement in 2018

Patrick
Maitland

Monday, January 01, 2018

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The new year should bring joy and hope for a new beginning and much optimism in the agricultural sector. However, if the negative trends and the lacklustre performances continue in agriculture, 2018 will be another challenging year for farmers.

The nation's overall domestic crop production output has been tame this year and could continue to face more poor performance in 2018 because of unstable weather conditions and significant constraints affecting production.

Jamaica's food security measure, including the Government's Vision 2030 - National Development Plan, could be derailed as the island is losing 9,722 hectares of farmland each year, including some 379,140 hectares or 63 per cent that have disappeared over the past 48 years.

If the trend continues, Jamaica in 2030 would have lost a further 126,386 hectares, or almost 44 per cent of its farmlands. This includes prime agricultural lands which are essential to the efficient production of livestock and crop production to satisfy both the domestic and export markets.

Another disturbing development is the increasing food import cost, which has been averaging over US$906 million over the past six years, while agricultural export is struggling at US$216 million.

However, all is not lost. We have a healthy pool of resourceful people in both the public and private sectors who are eager to see the re-emergence of a thriving agriculture industry. Also, a new breed of savvy entrepreneurs, including members of the Diaspora, who are seeking investment opportunities in agriculture and renewable energy.

But, some strategic interventions are needed to fix agriculture.

The Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries (MICAF) needs to put in place strategies to fast-track the modernisation of agriculture to enhance food security, improve rural livelihoods, and create wealth for the people.

Agricultural modernisation and improved production efficiency are some critical prescriptions for tackling the challenges of the farming sector, which is vital to unlocking economic growth potential.

Overall, we need more energy and excitement in agriculture to keep the sleeping king awake. MICAF is now more reactive than proactive. Not many new and creative projects and programmes are being rolled out.

While there may be other critical issues affecting the operations at the ministry, we agree with farmers and other stakeholders who are complaining that “agriculture is not doing well under the merged MICAF”.

With 28 departments and agencies in the super MICAF, it is virtually impossible for one minister and a permanent secretary to carry out their responsibilities as outlined by Jamaican laws efficiently.

The ministry that is hosting the agriculture and fisheries portfolios is overloaded and pressured with numerous regulations and other bureaucratic red tape.

Five years after the late Minister of Agriculture Roger Clarke announced the merger of the four agricultural entities — the coconut, coffee and cocoa boards and the ministry's export division — into a single agency, the process is yet to be completed. Production outputs of these commodities continue to decline as farmers are abandoning their fields.

Food importers are raking in millions because imported coffee, cocoa, meat, and milk are outperforming local production.

The year 2018 is expected to be another challenging period for farmers. However, with more cohesive leadership at the agriculture ministry and better consultation with farmers and stakeholders, we could achieve success.

Patrick Maitland is a newspaper publisher and agriculturalist. Send comments to the Observer or patrick@theagriculturalist.com.

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