With the cost of imported farm inputs contributing to concerns for Jamaica's food safety, security, and sustainability, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Pearnel Charles Jr has revealed that plans are in place to create seed banks and develop local fertiliser and animal feed assets.
Charles Jr, who was speaking to editors and reporters during the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange at the newspaper's head office on Beechwood Avenue this week, made the disclosure while outlining his ministry's 'Eat Smart, Grow Smart' strategy, which aims to mitigate the impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Russo-Ukraine war and climate change on agricultural value and supply chains.
"To grow smart you have to have a hyper focus on research and development. So we're discussing soil fertility, we're looking on pH water balancing, we're looking on exploring the clean seeds, we're looking on a seed bank â€” not just seed storage [but] seed bank, which is a total different discussion," he outlined.
"We're talking about an area where you have consistent mechanised modern vaults to protect your seeds, and we're looking on being that hub for the Caribbean," the minister continued.
Charles Jr said that the ministry is also exploring germplasm as part of its thrust to incorporate science and technology that is required into agriculture, "so that we're not just talking about climate-smart agriculture and innovation and technology, but we are able to represent it as a country and to establish it in our outcomes."
Given the vulnerability of Jamaica to climate change as a small island developing state, he said that it is necessary to build a resilient sector by introducing new methods and reintroducing traditional ones.
The agriculture minister had shared similar plans in his contribution to 2022 sectoral presentations in Parliament back in May. At the time, he pointed out that the development of the country's germplasm and seed banks provides short-, medium- and long-term solutions and will be able to improve Jamaica's local capacity to produce.
The development of a seed bank also aligns with strategies outlined in the Agriculture Sector Plan for Jamaica's Vision 2030.
Charles Jr, however, noted that the move comes against the background that one of the highest cost in agricultural production is farm inputs.
Recently, during a Jamaica Observer Business Forum, president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce Ian Neita questioned the possibility of the country achieving food security when inputs including seeds, fertiliser and feed are imported.
Commenting on the cost of inputs, Charles noted, "I want you to appreciate how important it is [that] the highest cost in terms of shifting the end cost to consumers is feed and fertiliser. So when feed and fertiliser go up, you feel it the most.
"That's why we are, in a very deliberate way, focusing our research efforts on defining ways that more local assets in our fertiliser and in our feed," the minister added.
One example of increasing the country's local asset in feed is having the right grass to feed ruminant animals, which can increase the quality and quantity of animal by-products.
Chief technical director in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Orville Powell noted that for a long time animal-based protein was one of the most expensive in the region due to the cost of the feed. To correct this, he said that the ministry, through the Bodles Agricultural Research Station, has identified and is now rolling out new grass species for ruminants.
"So if you can produce this material at a lower cost, it means that your end product to consumers will be lower. So we're using the Mombasa grass as a means of reducing the cost of protein to our consumers going through the ruminant animals," he explained, adding that by the upcoming weekend the ministry will have achieved growing 75 acres of Mombasa and Pangola grass.
In the same vein, Minister Charles pointed out that research at Earth University in San Jose, Costa Rica, has reaffirmed the approach adopted by Bodles Agricultural Research Station to ascertain the best grass and how to grow it in Jamaica.
"It's all about improving efficiencies. Just the difference in the texture and the digestibility of the grass can make a massive difference in how your goat or your cow grows. So all of those things are the intricate details around you grow smart.