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Newly appointed Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Christopher Tufton, has stressed that the agricultural sector must be viable and as such, more can be done to boost the industry.
“We take the position that agriculture can be viable and should be viable. While there have been a number of accomplishments, there is a lot more that we can do as a sector to boost levels of productivity and output and ultimately that is where we need to be,” he stated.
He was speaking at a welcome session organized by the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) yesterday (Sept.18) at its offices in downtown Kingston, during day one of his scheduled three-day tour of agencies and facilities in Kingston, which fall under the Ministry of Agriculture.
Dr. Tufton pointed out that in order to achieve sustainability of the sector, productivity must be improved, while concerted effort must be placed on branding, packaging and niche marketing.
“We know that Jamaican produce commands a lot of respect in the international marketplace and we can compete in terms of quality, therefore, issues relating to niche marketing, branding and packaging will be critical to future dispensation,” he said.
He further noted that achieving a sustained level of viability will require partnerships between government and the relevant agencies along with small farmers, who are supported with the necessary services and infrastructure such as roads and packaging facilities.
“I am committed and I have a vision .this Government has a vision for this agricultural revolution,” he said adding, “the Prime Minister in his instructions to me when he appointed me, was that you need to go there, work with what you have and change the perception and the attitude that currently exists.” “People tend to look at agriculture as an activity that is engaged in when no other option is available and this is a mindset that we must change,” he argued. Meanwhile, addressing post-Hurricane Dean recovery efforts for the industry, Dr. Tufton informed that assessments have already been done and damage to the sector has been estimated to be some $3.7 billion. He said that approximately $225 million has already been allocated and disbursement to farmers is now taking place, however discussions are still continuing at the governmental level to provide more money to the affected farmers.
“Things are getting back to normal gradually and what we are trying to do is speed up that process as best as possible so that people can be restored to their original position. Hopefully, we can see the benefits of that assistance in the months to come,” the Minister noted.
On the matter of importation and possible food shortages resulting from Hurricane Dean, the Agriculture Minister said that the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) has been instructed to conduct an assessment of fresh produce available in the island and at this point, he has “no evidence to suggest that enough (produce) is not available.”
“Our position is as always that we will depend on our local players to provide us with what we require,” he informed.
Commenting on the first day of his tour, Dr. Tufton pointed out that “the tours (are) well worth it” and will allow him the opportunity to understand the issues that affect the industry and what is needed to move it forward.
The facilities already visited are the JAS, Coffee Industry Board, Fisheries Division, Wallenford Coffee Company, Export Division and the Cocoa Industry Board. The three-day activity, which continued today, will culminate on Thursday, (Sept. 20) with a visit to the offices of the Sugar Company of Jamaica.