JIS News

Allow me first of all to express appreciation to the President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society, Senator Norman Grant and the President/CEO of Excel Insurance Brokers, Mrs. Ingrid Munroe for their kind invitation to share this very special occasion – the official launch of the Jamaica Agricultural Society/Excel Farmers’ Healthcare Plus Insurance Plan.
As you know my schedule over the past few months and, as well over the next few months, has been, and will continue to be exceptionally busy. But however crowded the agenda, I could not miss this very special event for two very important reasons:
First – Anything to help and to protect our farmers, particularly in these days of unstable weather is a primary concern of mine.
This JAS/Excel Farmers’ Plus Insurance Plan provides an excellent opportunity for the further security and improvement of the quality of life of our farmers. It represents yet another groundbreaking health care initiative – this time for another all-important segment of our people. It falls in line with the introduction of two critical health care initiatives introduced by this Administration – the Jamaica Drugs for the Elderly Programme and the National Health Fund.
Second -It represents another example of the successful collaboration between the government, the NGO community and the private sector in developing this Plan which, in so may areas of national endeavour, holds the key to our nation’s stability and sustainable development. As you have heard, this particular project has been developed by Excel Insurance – the first private sector insurance entity to be licensed by the Financial Services Commission to sell US$ insurance product in Jamaica; the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) – a leader and pioneer of Jamaica non-government organizations; and the NHF.
Let me say something first about our farmers, our agricultural sector and by extension rural Jamaica. In this regard, I have to speak plainly. I have to call a spade a spade. Despite what some may think, Jamaica and the Jamaican people can only move ahead, can only build prosperity and sustain high levels of human development if our farmers, our agricultural sector and our rural households share equitably in our forward movement. They must be brought fully into the development process so critical to our survival as a people in this 21st century.
They cannot, and must not, be left behind while a few forge ahead. Let us never forget that today 20% of our working people are in agriculture and almost half of all our people live in rural Jamaica.
Let us never forget that in the not-too- distant- past, it was from the country-parts, from our country folk that much of the production and productivity derived which made Jamaica first in the world at different times in our history – in sugar, in banana, in bauxite-alumina. Equally, it is the energy and creativity of the farming, the agricultural sector and rural Jamaican people along with that of the town dwellers that drove Jamaica to attain and surpass many milestones in our historic journey – the milestones of Emancipation, of Adult Suffrage, of Independence.
No wonder so many of our National Heroes and outstanding personalities hail from rural Jamaica and owe so much to the farming community.
And therefore for me personally and for the administrations I have had the honour to lead; a central consideration has been and remains – never to forget where we have come from!
It is important to recognize that much of our protection against urban decay and the evils that accompany this blight rests on ensuring and sustaining rural development. This is why, despite severe resource constraints, today:
87% of Jamaica’s rural population enjoys access to improved water. This is well above the global average of 70% and is higher than every region of the world except the high income countries.
68% of Jamaica’s rural population enjoys access to improved sanitation. This is almost twice the global average of 35% and well above middle income countries in every region of the globe.
Almost 90% of our rural people enjoy access to electricity
And you all know as well as I do, how cellular telephone communication has – as a result of our policy of telecommunication liberalization – has opened up contact to and from rural areas.
Moreover, poverty in rural Jamaica has been cut form 37.1% of the population in 1995 to 22.1% in 2004.
Clearly much has been done. But equally clearly, a great deal remains to be accomplished to improve farm incomes, uplift rural life and slow the tide of rural-urban migration.
Critical, in this regard is the fact that, the productivity of our farmers and agricultural sector needs dramatic improvement. We are seeing the consequences of failure to become globally competitive in traditional export agriculture, in sugar and bananas.
A key ingredient of increased competitiveness is obviously the modernisation of the equipment, tooling and technology in the sector. For example, we shall have to move rapidly from the current average of 12 tractors per 1000 agricultural workers – where the world average is 20 and for Latin America and the Caribbean it is 40 – if we are to catch up with the competition. And being competitive – in terms of price, of quality and of reliability of supply – is crucial for another reason.
The expansion of investment in tourism, the construction of new hotels and the imminent growth in tourism arrivals over the next few years is going to provide considerable opportunities for our farmers to supply the hotels with fresh agricultural produce. We must be ready to seize this opportunity!!
But important as modernizing our production methods is, and, of course, along with this, upgrading the skill/educational level of the farming community, there is another critical element – the health status of the farmer and the health security of his/her family.
In this regard, a major priority of my administration has been and remains to protect and enhance the health status of rural Jamaica.
This has been one of the major factors underlying our establishment of the National Health Fund – through which tens of thousands of our country folk are now benefiting from improved access to more affordable drugs.
Our concern for the health status of the farmer and the agricultural worker has also needed urgent attention.
The levels of health insurance coverage in this sector are far too low. In the Kingston Metropolitan Area one in every four now has health insurance but in rural Jamaica, it remains only one in seven.
This deficit has to be urgently tackled. Today’s launch of the JAS/Excel Farmers’ Healthcare Plus Insurance Plan is a major step towards addressing this shortfall. It represents a welcome and creative new initiative in addressing the health needs of our farmers.
The route we have taken is this new partnership between the private sectors – represented by Excel (backed by Life of Jamaica and Sagicor); the non-governmental community represented by the JAS, and by the government, through the National Health Fund.
The truth is that farmers and agricultural workers have certain characteristics which make it very difficult for any single partner to adequately address their health needs. These include:
relatively low income;unstable cash flow;wide dispersal;comparatively remote communities.
Neither the private insurance sector, JAS alone nor the NHF alone could address these special needs.
Together, however, they can – with the deep understanding of the farmers’ needs and the widespread organizational network of the Jamaica; with the individual drug discount benefits, derived from enrolment in the NHF; with the Excel creativity in health plan design, with the Life of Jamaica – Sagicor financial strength, and with the reliability of the Financial Services Commission regulatory oversight – together this is an unmatched and unbeatable partnership in beginning to address the farmers’ health needs.
At last, there is now a real opportunity for Jamaican farmers to come into the 21st century and to draw alongside other working people in relation to their life, critical illness and health insurance needs.
I see from your programme that you have had presentations on the special features of this remarkable Plan – particularly the critical illness benefit without prior medical examination – and therefore I need not go into these, save and except for one thing:
Some of our farmers recently have regrettably had bad experience of insurance; no doubt you can expect that there will be many insurers offering you new products. But “once bitten, twice shy”. In these circumstances it is more than normally necessary that farmers exercise due diligence before entering on new insurance venture. You need to ensure that whatever insurance you buy is clearly endorsed by your own organization – the JAS; that brokers and agents are regulated by appropriate authorities; that innovative plans, particularly US$ plans, are approved by our own Jamaican Financial Services Commission; that underwriting companies – in this case Life of Jamaica and Sagicor – are strong financially. In short, you need to ensure that the insurance you buy is authentic, credible and responsive to your needs.
It is because I believe that the JAS/Excel Farmers’ Healthcare Plus Insurance Plan meets these criteria that I warmly commend the leadership of these organizations – in particular Senator Grant and Mrs. Munroe for their initiative. I therefore take great pleasure in officially launching this plan – the Jamaica Agricultural Society/Excel Farmers’ Healthcare Plus Insurance Plan.
The entire nation will benefit from those participants who will now have the special security that this good health insurance plan offers to the farmers of our land, who feed the nation, and whose products contribute significantly to our national economy.