GraceKennedy (GK) Group CEO Don Wehby has renewed his appeal for the country to invest heavily in the agricultural sector on which manufacturers rely for raw materials.
With the country's food import bill now averaging over US$1 billion annually, Wehby has challenged Jamaicans to reduce the bill by at least 50 per cent by 2030.
“…If we're going to have sustainable growth in Jamaica, it's going to come from our agricultural sector, and its going to come from agro-processing,” Wehby said during a GK investor briefing held recently.
“You have high import costs because the [Jamaican] dollar devalues and suppliers from overseas increased their costs and there's not much we can do about it. But what we can do in the medium- to long-term is investing in agriculture, we need to be more self-reliant in Jamaica and not depend on others,” he argued.
“…Because when other borders locked down due to [the pandemic], we had to turn to Jamaican manufacturers and our farmers to keep us going”.
Consumers now face price increases due to the country's import-dependent economy, as well as global supply shortages caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
There has been several announcements of price increases for chicken, pork, and other products, including flour, from some of the country's largest food manufacturers and distributors.
While he lamented on the high freight rates —which has jumped from US$2,500 to US$15,000 per container for some importers, and the significant supply increases such as corned beef, Wehby said GK is committed in reducing the bill.
“At GraceKennedy, we have looked at our business inside-out, and we're doing everything possible to make sure that we pass on the minimum price increases to our consumers and customers. We're looking at other ways to reduce costs so we can remain profitable and give our shareholders a good return on their investment,” the CEO said, noting that it is a difficult time for most.
According to the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), during the period July-September, positive contributions to the economy came from most of the main sectors with the goods-producing industry increasing by some 2.8 per cent in output. This was primarily led by strong out-turns from the manufacturing and agriculture sectors recording outputs of 8.5 per cent and 7.2 per cent, respectively.
Real value added for the agriculture industry during the period under reviews grew by 7.2 per cent on PIOJ's production index, reflecting the impact of renewed demand from the tourism sector amid its recovery, and the continuation of measures implemented by the Government to improve the output in the industry, the agency said.