Government pushing sweet potatoes as replacement for imported wheat
Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Pearnel Charles Jr (left) in discussion with chief technical director in the agriculture and fisheries ministry, Orville Palmer, following the most recent Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange. (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

IF current discussions between potential investors and the Government are fruitful, Jamaica could see a major move away from imported wheat to locally grown sweet potatoes.

This goal, according to Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Pearnel Charles Jr, is part of the Government's continued thrust to reduce the country's import bill and ensure national food security.

Speaking at the latest Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, Charles Jr said discussions are being had with "big investors who are very interested" in the idea of replacing the approximately 176,000 tonnes of wheat imported into the country each year.

According to Charles Jr, the ministry's 'Grow Smart, Eat Smart' campaign, which was launched this year as a strategy to increase production and consumption of local produce,"is a big part of what is making them [investors] understand the approach".

The initiative targets several priority areas, including crop production, climate-smart practices and technologies, access to finance, advancing and expanding insurance for farmers, and a focus on praedial larceny.

In the meantime, chief technical director in the agriculture and fisheries ministry, Orville Palmer, continued to tout sweet potatoes as the ideal substitute for wheat.

Palmer argued that sweet potato "is far more nutritious" and pointed out that three crops can be produced each year.

He noted that if 176,000 tonnes of imported wheat go into making flour, that translates to about 132,000 tonnes of flour in Jamaica.

"Let's convert that into sweet potato – you're talking about [producing] 666,000 tonnes of sweet potatoes if you were to do 100 per cent substitution, which would be ideal [to replace wheat]," Palmer explained.

In showing the efficiency of producing enough sweet potatoes to substitute for wheat, Palmers said either 66,000 acres of sweet potatoes would need to be harvested per year or three harvests per year from 22,000 acres.

Palmer stressed that Jamaica doesn't have a major concern in terms of producing the replacement starch but insisted that more investors need to be brought into the space to make it happen.

"That is what we need in agriculture right now, large investors who do not just talk but come to the table and invest in agriculture — put your money in the ground," urged Palmer.

As at August 24, 2022, the price for wheat per metric tonne was US$321.97.

BY ALECIA SMITH Senior staff reporter smitha@jamaicaobserver.com

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