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Agriculture Minister, Dr. Christopher Tufton has called on stakeholders to recognise the critical need to begin building local capacity to ensure the long-term viability of the sector.
He stated that given what is taking place globally, there is a critical need for local farmers to take stock and begin building capacity in the sector.
Dr. Tufton was addressing a European Union (EU), all African Pacific and Caribbean (ACP) Commodities Programme Regional Consultative Workshop at the Caymanas Golf and Country Club in St. Catherine on Thursday (Oct. 23).
He said a critical component of that capacity building exercise is funding and that the terms and conditions that would apply to investments need to be reconsidered and re-calibrated, in order to ensure that greater credit is provided to the agriculture sector. He also pointed out that training would be a major part of that credit assessment.
“The time has come for us Government to think out of the box in terms of how we provide credit and access to financing to build agricultural capacity. The truth is that the sector is exposed to certain types of risks and we have to try and reduce those risks,” he said.
The workshop, which brought together several key stakeholders within the sector, will allow farmers to have an idea of the opportunities available, which will direct them on what to produce, and the quantity, and quality necessary.
Dr. Tufton used the opportunity to highlight the need for improved training and the use of best practice techniques in ensuring that the outputs of farmers could be better, as factors to be considered in creating better credit terms for farmers to access, in order to improve and expand their productive capacity and better financial returns.
“If we can establish this parametric insurance model that is being worked on by the International Development Bank (IDB), ourselves, and the World Bank then that again should be factored into the equation to minimise the calculation of risks, which the sources of funding would factor into their equation to determine whether or not resources are provided.”
The Government he added, is addressing the provision of better information to farmers as one step toward achieving that goal and pointed to the introduction of 20 new Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) extension officers, the current recruitment of an additional 40 and by the end of the parliamentary year, the capacity of the extension services should be doubled, reducing the ratio of extension officer to farmer by half.
The workshop is the final in a series aimed at assisting the Ministry of Agriculture in developing a comprehensive sector policy focusing on the fruits and vegetables, roots and tubers and herbs and spices sub-sector. These sub-sectors were specifically chosen because they provide opportunities for the sustainable development of the non-traditional export sector and contribute significantly to food security. They also have the ability to benefit from the revitalisation of agricultural productivity and competitiveness to allow for new market opportunities.