Weighing the agricultural imperative during COVID-19

Weighing the agricultural imperative during COVID-19


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

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Perhaps the greatest challenge that Jamaica and the world face during the novel coronavirus pandemic is that of food security. You notice I did not say in the “post-COVID-19 economy” because one cannot be too sure what that really means anymore and when we will ever be post-COVID-19.

What really is post-COVID-19? If the term means subduing the virus to the extent that we can return to a semblance of living that existed at the beginning of this year, we are in for a long haul, or perhaps indulging delusionary fantasies. All indications are that in various parts of the world there is a resurgence of the virus. Even places that seemed to have contained it are experiencing surges as schools and businesses, especially bars and restaurants, reopen.

Jamaica is in the full throes of the virus consequent upon the community spread phase of it. The statistics are horrendous considering where we were up to early August and where we are now. There is no indication that this will abate any time soon. We will soon be faced with the winter period and the confusion that will arise in treating the common flu and COVID-19.

If “post-COVID-19” means finding a cure or vaccine for the virus, I believe we are also in for a long haul. Even if we find an effective cure or vaccine, and it is anybody's guess how soon that might be, I do not believe that we will ever return to life as we had it up to early February 2020. My suspicion is that we will be dealing with this virus for a good while.

The truth is that COVID-19 has irrevocably changed how we live our lives. National economies will have to be realigned and policies recalibrated to meet the new realities of the seismic shock that COVID-19 has made to the world economy. However good the forecasts, no one can truly say what things will be like in two, five, or even 10 years from now.

We will have to deal with the imperatives as they present themselves and not waste too much time bellyaching about a post-COVID-19 environment which seems as elusive as quicksilver. One of the most important imperatives is that of food security. Studies are already showing that there are increasing levels of poverty around the world, especially in poorer nations which were already facing severe challenges. To avert mass starvation in many areas, international agricultural agencies will have to address how agriculture can be done more smartly and deftly within the constraints imposed by the pandemic.

Help must be provided for poorer countries to boost their agricultural output. The effort has to be focused and concentrated. This concentration of effort is the challenge that faces the newly minted Minister of Agriculture Floyd Green. He is the man on the bridge at this critical time when the waters are raging tempestuously below him. With limited resources, he has to face the need for increased agricultural output that will meet our food security demands head on. He has to lead with vigour to place Jamaica for Jamaicans at the cutting edge of this new transformation of our agricultural industry.

The Government must give him and the ministry the support that will be needed to make this transformation. Having bold and visionary policies and the energy of youth are good, but they will not be sufficient to meet the demands required if the necessary support from the governing machinery is not forthcoming. And that machinery has to be equally bold and imaginative to meet the vision that the minister and his team should have.

An essential part of this vision is to sell to the country, especially the youth, the critical imperative of agriculture during this period of the pandemic and the years ahead. A further critical component is financial; to enable the capital build-out that the sector needs. All available agricultural land must be made earmarked for this new thrust, including those that have been foolishly sequestered at Bernard Lodge for housing development.

We face an existential threat to our food security, perhaps in a shorter time frame than we might imagine. I believe that the new minister is seized of the difficulties before him. He will need a lot of help. He should consult with the major stakeholders in the industry and come up with a comprehensive plan of what can be done in the short term to increase our agricultural viability in the shortest time possible. Value-added processes and linkages within the industry with other sectors, especially the tourism sector, must be high on the agenda. Jamaicans must be educated to understand the existential nature of the new paradigm we face. Time is not our best friend, Minister.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator and author of the book WEEP: Why President Donald J Trump Does Not Deserve A Second Term . Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or stead6655@aol.com.

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