The nation's farmers are again being urged to increase productivity in order to safeguard the sector's viability.
This call came from Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, and Director General in the Ministry, Don McGlashan, at a plant nutrition seminar held on Tuesday (April 24) at the Bodles Research Station in St. Catherine.
Minister Clarke lamented the "vast acreages" of arable land, ideally suited for farming, that remain idle, and said that ways must be found to put these lands into production.
“Enemy number one, as far as agriculture is concerned, (is) idle lands; we cannot continue to import nearly US$1 billion worth of food into this country. We have good weather, we have good rainfall, we have good land, we have (the) expertise. We must find a way to be more productive…we must find a way to produce (more), to feed ourselves, as best as we can,” he stated.
In giving a review of the sector, Mr. McGlashan said that for several years, Jamaica was ranked among the top producing countries, with significant outputs in citrus, cocoa, yams, coffee, papaya, hot pepper, and honey.
Additionally, he said, the country distinguished itself in the area of research and development through the exploits of pioneers such as the late Dr. T.P. Lecky, Sam Motta, Dr. Dinsdale Morgan, and Arthur “Jack” Muschette, who engaged in animal husbandry, fodder development and pasture management, among other pursuits.
The Director General said that there have been gradual decline in outputs, citing, as examples, decreases in citrus output, from 4.5 million boxes in 1996, to three million currently, and reductions in yam production from 253,000 tonnes in 1995/96, noting that “we are (now) a far (way) off…those figures”.
The Director General pointed to variables contributing to these developments, including: climatic and environmental changes, declining soil fertility, new and emerging pests, adding that there is “a lot of work to do” to rectify the situation.
“The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) says we need 70 per cent higher yield by 2050, to meet demand. It is now time to unlock the potential in our minds, to create the changes which we need, to ensure that our agriculture remains viable,” Mr. McGlashan underscored.
The seminar, held under the theme: ‘System Biology and Epigenetics,’ was staged by the Ministry in collaboration with United States-based plant nutrition research firm, Stoller International Corporation, and St. Catherine-based agricultural distributor, St. Jago Farm Supplies Limited.
The forum featured presentations by Stoller’s Research Director, Dr. Albert Liptay, who spoke on, among other things, the cutting edge technology of system biology in developing products, and the principles of epigenetics in regulating plant hormones and genes for increased productivity. Epigeneticsis the study of how environmental factors influence genetic expression.
By Douglas McIntosh, JIS Reporter