KINGSTON — Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Dr. Christopher Tufton has urged local farmers to learn how to effectively use technology and proper business skills, to take full advantage of the agricultural market and further develop the sector.
“It is not enough for us in the sector to just embrace and apply technology. Technology has to apply within the context of intellectual capacity and understanding the market that you are serving,” he advised.
The Minister argued that local farmers or agro-investors must now adjust their mindset in order to recognise that agriculture is a business, just like any other industry.
Dr. Tufton was speaking at the launch of the Denbigh Agri-Industrial and Food Show 2011, held on the lawns of the Ace Supercentre, White Marl, St. Catherine, on June 21.
The three-day event will be held from July 30 to August 1 at the Denbigh show grounds in May Pen, Clarendon, under the theme: ‘Grow What We Eat, Eat What We Grow: Opportunity and Technology-driven Denbigh 2011’.
The Minister said farmers will now have to learn how to pay closer attention to the market and adjust their operations, in order to take full advantage of opportunities as they arise.
“We have farmers who do well when the market is scarce and they enjoy that, but when it is in abundance, they complain and ask the government to provide them with a bail out,” he said.
“I’m not saying that the government shouldn’t assist, because we do assist all the time and we have a duty to assist. But, if you approach the sector in a way that seeks to determine where the opportunities are and, how you need to adjust to address those opportunities, then you may find more solutions than just being dependent on a predictable environment to adjust your strategy,” he added.
Dr. Tufton said the Ministry has been doing its part to assist farmers in various ways, such as developing sharper marketing and business skills; and post harvest management.
“It is critical, in this dispensation, if we are producing more, in terms of volumes, that we place greater emphasis on post harvest management, because you are not going to be able to sell everything you have immediately after reaping,” the Minister said.
He noted that some crops, for example, bell peppers, are not easily stored and so farmers will need to learn the skill of properly managing production, while recognising the limitations of storage, in order to take full advantage of the ever changing marketplace.
Dr. Tufton further argued that it is critical for local farmers to also adjust their mindset as it relates to not just the advantages of technology, but also the knowledge of how it is utilised.
Using greenhouse technology as an example, the Minister said it is important for farmers to recognise the advantages that this new technology provides and to use it to their benefit.
“You have this technology that allows you to now deviate from the normal crop pattern that open field farmers are accustomed to, which is growing with the rain, but invariably when you look at the pattern of production among the green house farmers, they grow with the rain just like the open field farmers,” he pointed out.
The Minister said as result of this approach, during periods of drought and even flooding, many greenhouse farmers are just as limited in their capacity to respond to the market, as the open field farmers, despite the fact that they have a technology that provides them with an advantage against this type of risk.
“The point is that technology is not enough, it is how you use the technology. And, we’re going to have to spend more time to get our farmers, our agro-investors to appreciate that and to adjust to that,” he emphasised.
In the meantime, Dr. Tufton lauded the efforts of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) in staging the Denbigh Agricultural show, which he said, continues to be an important event on the calendar of many Jamaican farmers each year.
He said the change in the show’s title and the addition of new features are a recognition that the event needs to be more relevant to not only the needs of the Jamaican farmer, but also to the patrons.
He said such ideas were raised during continued discussions with members of the JAS, the Ministry and other key stakeholders, which also resulted in the signing of a memorandum of understanding among the various groups.
Opposition spokesman on agriculture, Roger Clarke also endorsed the agricultural show, which he said continues to be the premier agricultural show in the Caribbean, despite the many challenges.
The Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show is a hallmark event that has been embedded in the unique culture and the broad fabric of the Jamaican farmer from as early as 1953. The show is staged annually by the JAS as part of the country’s Independence and Emancipation celebrations.
Among those attending the launch were President, JAS, Glendon Harris; Chairman, Denbigh Committee, Senator Norman Grant and Executive Director of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), Al Powel.
By ATHALIAH REYNOLDS, JIS Reporter