Agriculture Minister Highlights Success of Research


Agriculture Minister, Roger Clarke has said that agricultural research has been making strides in several critical fields, despite the misinformation and misunderstanding of the discipline.
Making his presentation in the 2005/06 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives, yesterday (June 7), Mr. Clarke noted that the area of agricultural research was one which required time and patience. “It is a slow, painstaking activity that requires patience, dedication, commitment and oftentimes, sacrifice,” he explained.
“It can take, for example, as much as 15 years to develop a new sugar or banana variety that is high yielding, disease resistant and possesses the desirable qualities of soil and climatic adaptability,” he added.
Citing famous past agricultural researchers, such as T.P. Lecky and Sam Motta, Minister Clarke said current researchers were displaying similar qualities and were quietly developing new and improved varieties and cultivars of peppers, pumpkins, tomatoes, papayas and others.
“Indeed, our scientists at Bodles have standardized the flavour, shape and colour of the much sought after scotch bonnet pepper, through a long process of selection and improved breeding techniques,” he noted.
He pointed out that as the demand for the peppers increased among local agro-processors and in the regional and international marketplace, the Ministry would be stepping up the research, using cross-breeding and bio-technology to develop varieties with increased tolerance to viral diseases.
In respect to research being done on tomato, the Minister explained that the new varieties developed in collaboration with Ansa Seed Company in California, St. Jago Farm Supplies and scientists at Bodles, have been receiving encouraging reviews.
Mr. Clarke said the research had achieved the primary objective of developing a resistant variety to the tomato leaf curl virus, commonly known to farmers.
“I am therefore very pleased to report that the laboratory tests and field trials having been completed, we have taken the next step, which is to make seeds of this resistant variety available to the public on a commercial basis, through our research partner, St. Jago Farm Supplies,” he said.
In the area of nutraceuticals, the Minister informed that research was being carried out in order to take advantage of this worldwide trend. “The research and development division, together with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), is currently involved in a survey to ascertain the volume of selected herbs being produced and the areas in which they are grown,” he added.
He said that information was available on pimento, ginger and sorrel production but information on fever grass, rosemary, turmeric, kola nut and sarsaparilla were largely unavailable.
Mr. Clarke said the Ministry would focus on the establishment of on-station and on-farm demonstration/research plots, which would provide yield data and facilitate the training of farmers in the production of the various crops. The project would also facilitate the use of tissue culture for the mass propagation of planting material.
Research at Bodles is not confined to crops, but also extends to the livestock sub-sector, and Minister Clarke expressed his pleasure at the improvement in the size and qualities of local goats. He explained that the improvement had been accomplished as a result of cross-breeding with imported Boers, the Alpines and Nubians.
“There has been quite a revolution in the area of goat breeding. When I see the new look Jamaican goat, I feel proud,” the Minister said.
Pig enhancement was another area in which Minister Clarke expressed his satisfaction, noting that the research being carried out would enable pig farmers to make substantial profits and consumers would enjoy better quality pork at affordable prices.
The research is being carried out in collaboration with the Agricultural Support Services Project (ASSP) and Newport Mills, and is aimed at reducing the cost of pork production, through the supply of improved genetic stock.
Mr. Clarke said that the $129.6 million budgetary allocation for research, a slight increase from last year’s allocation, would not be enough to address even half of what is needed to be done if the agricultural sector was going to be technologically driven.
To address this, the Ministry would be teaming with a number of institutions, including the University of the West Indies (UWI), the Scientific Research Council and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), as well as international private sector agencies.
The Minister added that the Ministry’s close alignment with international agricultural organizations was also providing considerable support in research and development.
“We also work closely with the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, and this amounts to substantial investment in research and development in agriculture,” he pointed out.
In addition, research is carried out in the sector by the commodity organizations, especially those responsible for major export crops.
Minister Clarke also pointed to strides being made in research and development in the sugar, coconut and banana industries. In the sugar industry, he cited the work being done by the Sugar Industry Research Institute (SIRI), a subsidiary of the Sugar Industry Authority.
SIRI does research in sugar cane agronomy and factory technology and is responsible for the breeding and development of new cane varieties to improve and replenish the planting material available to the industry.
The Minister noted that the coconut industry has had outstanding success in the development of varieties resistant to lethal yellowing.
In respect to research in the banana industry, Minister Clarke explained that the Banana Board has conducted research with assistance from the European Union’s banana support programme.
Mr. Clarke said that citrus research was carried out in collaboration with the industry, with the main emphasis now on developing effective measures to stop the spread of the Tristeza virus. He pointed out that the Coffee Board has conducted its research with CARDI, in developing biological control methods for the coffee berry borer.
The Minister emphasised that the agricultural sector was blessed with a great deal of talent and expertise in research, but was falling short due to the lack of financial resources. “Where we have a deficiency, it is not human but rather financial resources,” he pointed out.

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