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Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, has underscored the need for the zoning of arable lands, to ensure they are utilised for cultivation and other agricultural purposes.

Speaking at Wednesday's (October  3) final African, Pacific and Caribbean (ACP) Fish II Programme validation workshop, organised by the Ministry and the Belize–based ACP Regional Co-ordinating Unit, at the Farmers' Training Centre, Twickenham Park, St. Catherine, Mr. Clarke said that, "we are moving too much of our arable lands into housing and other things."

"We must preserve our agricultural lands to feed ourselves in the future. And so, by extension, in terms of planning for agricultural production, it is important to zone areas, based on their suitability for different types of production systems and crops," the Minister  emphasised.

"As you may be aware, a National Land Policy has been proposed, and it is recognised that if we, as a nation, are to have food and nutritional security, it is important to quantify and identify areas suitable for agricultural production, in order to secure these lands for food production," he added.

The Minister argued that in producing and eating more locally produced food, "you are contributing to your own safety, not only in terms of food, but your physical safety."

"Because, when we can get people to work, we will have the opportunity of cutting down on the crime rate. We will (also) cut this rural/urban drift, where our young people leave the rural areas and go into the cities and become engaged in anti-social behaviour," Mr. Clarke said.

The Minister reiterated plans for the development of eight agro parks in six parishes over the next three years, at a cost of some US$8 million. These will be established in St. Thomas, St. Catherine, Clarendon, Manchester, St. Elizabeth and Trelawny.

Meanwhile, Mr. Clarke said the Ministry is also cognizant of the need for public private partnerships, and the development of a research agenda with local universities, in order to provide solutions to some of the challenges facing the aquaculture sub-sector, in particular.

Some of the solutions being considered include: diversification of fish species; cultured research in nutrition and feeds to identify cheaper sources of feed stock; aquaculture economics; development of marketing and distribution systems; and fish health management.

The ACP Fish II Project, entitled: 'Strengthening Fisheries Management in ACP Countries', is a €30 million European Union funded four and a half year-demand driven programme, which focuses on ensuring sustainable and equitable fisheries management in 78 ACP nations.

Jamaica is one of 15 Caribbean countries currently benefitting under the programme, slated to conclude in November 2013.

The workshop brought together various private and public sector stakeholders in the fisheries sub-sector for presentations and discussions, aimed at developing a Land and Water Use Development Plan and Blue Print for an Aquaculture Action Plan for Jamaica. This will serve as a guide to enhance the country’s fisheries development and outputs.