JIS News

Cabinet has approved a proposal for the strategic repositioning of the Ministry of Agriculture, through the organisational restructuring of several entities, which fall under its jurisdiction.
The Agricultural Credit Board (ACB), Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), Agri-business Council [of Jamaica] (ABC), Marketing and Credit Division (MACD), Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), and Agricultural Services and Productive Projects Fund Ltd, are the entities slated to be reorganised.
Agriculture Minister, Dr. Christopher Tufton, who made the announcement at a post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House, on Oct. 29, said that this came against the background of a 30 and 17 per cent reduction in production and productivity levels, respectively, in terms of food production, and was in keeping with the Government’s attempts to be less dependent on imported food.
“The Ministry of Agriculture has embarked over the last 12 months, on an accelerated programme to restructure the Ministry in an attempt to become more effective in supporting the farmers, and in boosting production and productivity levels,” Dr. Tufton said, adding that the recent food crisis was also a factor in the restructuring process.
This undertaking, he informed, is intended to last three years, at a cost of approximately $500 million, to address some of the basic issues, “but we believe we will need, more, to deal with some of the other capacity building areas that are going to be required, in order to strengthen the Ministry and the role of the agricultural sector over time.”
The Agriculture Minister noted that a proposal was laid four years ago, to carry out some restructuring, which resulted in the Forestry Department becoming an Executive Agency. This, he pointed out, is currently in transition.
“Similarly, a proposal was mooted to restructure the Fisheries Division of the Ministry, and that is in progress. In fact, before the end of the calendar year, the hope is to table new legislation to replace the 1976 Fisheries Act, which will attempt to modernise the fisheries sector, as well as the tabling of a policy, that will seek to move the process forward. There are a number of elements to that, which will include better enforcement, the establishment of fish sanctuaries, better safety measures for fishers at sea, communications equipment, registration, and other forms of technical support,” he outlined.
He said that last year was spent primarily reviewing the Ministry and its critical agencies, adding that a consultant, Focal Point Consulting Group, was hired. “They submitted a report, and we have been having consultations with the internal as well as external stakeholders, which culminated in this submission to Cabinet,” Dr. Tufton informed.
“Essentially, what we are attempting to do is address a few critical areas – the quality of the extension service to farmers at the local level; the quality of research and development, and training; our capacity to do research and development, and to transfer that research and development in a way, that will allow the farmers to do their jobs better to boost productivity; the marketing capacity of the Ministry to assist farmers to understand the requirements of end users, and to help them to provide for those requirements at the primary production level; and the issue of credit – helping farmers to access financing to support their expansion,” he informed.
Regarding RADA, the Agriculture Minister said restructuring of the agency has commenced, adding that proposals for the expansion of the staff complement, inclusive of extension officers, have been accepted. He advised that just over 240 extension officers will be required when the restructuring is completed.
“The plan is to double the capacity this year, to 120, and in the next two years, to continue that expansion until we reach the optimum level according to the consultant’s report,” the Minister disclosed.
He said the Ministry has been recruiting extension officers, noting that 20 new recruits were brought in, with another 40 to come. “These extension officers will provide technical support to farmers, both in.. areas such as soil preparation and husbandry, as well as marketing, data collection and dissemination on markets, and in the area of business development,” Dr. Tufton explained.
He said that it was intended that RADA, as the official extension service, will provide a ‘one stop’ facility that will guide farmers, in terms of approaching farming and agriculture as a business.
“So the critical principles of operating a business, which would apply to any other business, we believe, should apply also to agriculture, and therefore, in each parish, there will be at least one business development officer,” he said.
Dr. Tufton further noted that each parish will have at least one person, with responsibility for animal husbandry, working with farmers who are involved in livestock production. “We will have at least one marketing officer who will deal with the data collection of production, who will, in turn forward it to end users in order to facilitate a better flow of information, and avoid the gluts and the shortages that currently occur,” he informed.
Also, as part of efforts to restructure the Veterinary Services, Dr. Tufton advised that 14 animal health technicians, who would be supervised by the Veterinary Division, were currently being recruited, to strengthen the vet services.
“We are also looking at zoning the country, perhaps not at the parish level, perhaps over larger areas, to provide more vets, who would provide more technical support as it relates to livestock care, and they would work in conjunction with the animal health technicians,” he informed.
Turning to the Marketing and Credit Unit and the Agro-business Council, Dr. Tufton said it is proposed to merge both entities, and create the Agro-Business Co-ordination Unit. This Unit will focus attention on marketing agricultural produce.
“We will have the Marketing Officers in each parish, and they will collect the data, working with the area Extension Officers, but that data will be downloaded on a central database, which will be made available at the Ministry’s central office, and manipulated to provide the appropriate information to the markets, the end users that are out there,” Dr. Tufton said.
He advised that two marketing specialists are currently working to put this infrastructure in place, “and when this merging takes place, we will see the necessary marketing expertise to assist in providing market information.”
In addition, the Agriculture Minister noted that RADA’s Agro-Business Information System would be merged with the Databank Evaluation Division. He informed that the Ministry has an under-utilised platform, which has been around for a while, which allows for the uploading of information at the parish level, and facilitates better management of information. He said this, in turn, can be used to support farmers’ activities, to allow them to deal with matters such as the scheduling of production, and growing certain types of crops depending on what the market requires. “So we are going to be merging those two systems, and it will allow for more effective functioning of that unit,” he said.
“We intend to dissolve the Agricultural Credit Board, (which) will require some legislative change. The Board is primarily responsible for regulating the People’s Co-operative (PC) banks (and) we believe that we don’t have the competency to deal with that. The PC banks are the community banks. We are currently working with Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) to shift the PC banks’ regulatory function, to the Department of Co-operatives and FriendlySocieties. That’s where the credit unions and so on are based. We believe that there is a natural fit there, and it would relieve us of that responsibility, which really is not a core function,” Dr. Tufton further informed.
There are also plans to merge the Agricultural Support Services Programme (ASSP), which is a special company that was established in the Ministry some three years ago, with the Agricultural Development Corporation. “We want to merge both of those, to create an entity which we will re-brand, (and) re-name, that will be, primarily, responsible for mobilising financing for agriculture, and for dealing with large agricultural projects,” he pointed out.
The Research and Development Unit in the Ministry, is also undergoing major restructuring. Dr. Tufton said the entity was being positioned to undertake additional research, applicable to challenges facing the agricultural sector, as well as for application at the level of the farm.
“We intend to launch early next year, a centre of excellence for agricultural research. And this centre is going to be a critical part of the research and development unit,.. that will allow for the co-ordination of agricultural research throughout Jamaica,” Dr. Tufton informed.
He advised that that research will be transferred into training manuals, which would then be fed back to the extension officers, to provide the type of technical support necessary to improve and promote best practices in the Ministry.
Additional personnel will also be brought into the Plant Quarantine Unit, to ensure that the health and safety of consumers are protected, as it relates to things like pesticide control, pest risk management, as well as various forms of diseases that might affect plant life, the Agriculture Minister further informed.
“An important point here is the area of customs, where we import quite a lot of agricultural produce. Sixty-one per cent of our food basket is actually imported, and a fair percentage of that involves primary products. We have plant quarantine officers, based at the Customs Department (and) we have been working closely with [them] over the last few months, to examine the existing structures that are in place, which allow for imported produce coming to the country,” Dr. Tufton pointed out.
He said there are several challenges currently being faced by the Customs Department, including under-invoicing and non-declaration of certain items, and “health and safety issues, as it relates to the quality of those produce coming into the country.” He added that, based on anecdotal evidence, the Ministry is concerned, that the quality of some of these inputs is questionable, and could pose a risk to the health and safety of consumers.
“We are also concerned that the Government is losing revenues. Our intention is to re-structure, (and) streamline the points at which these items are brought into the country, and provide for more frequent testing to ensure that these items coming in, meet acceptable health and safety standards in the interest of our consumers,” he pointed out.