• JIS News

    The issue of safeguarding the nation’s food security, in light of global developments, is one of the major challenges facing the administration, since it assumed office in September 2007, and which continues to be a priority matter.
    Spiralling costs, and in some quarters, shortage of staples, such as corn, wheat and rice, which constitute significant portions of the diets of non-producing countries, such as Jamaica, which are forced to import same, have been attributed to fluctuations in the price of oil, being sold for upwards of US$100 per barrel.
    A significant number of the countries producing these crops in large volumes, and which are, in some cases, like Jamaica, non-producers of oil and are forced to import, have moved to utilise significant percentages of their produce as energy alternatives to fossil fuels, while trying to ensure that adequate supplies are retained to satisfy domestic demand.
    This has resulted in a significant contraction in the supplies available for sale on the global market, or a spike in the price where demand outstrips supply.
    In light of these prevailing challenges, the administration moved to implement measures, in the area of agriculture, aimed at cushioning consumers against the resulting impact, while increasing production.
    To this end, the Ministry of Agriculture, under the stewardship of portfolio Minister, Dr. Christopher Tufton, was charged with the responsibility to spearhead this focus.
    The initiatives, some of which have already been implemented, include: backyard gardening, particularly in the urban centres, which Dr. Tufton, in his Budget presentation in April, said aims to assist householders in growing fruits, vegetables, and other small crops, in containers in small spaces in their communities.
    The programme, which was launched in St. Catherine in May and is being implemented islandwide on a phased basis with the assistance of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), sees householders being provided with gardening kits, comprising seeds, soil nutrients, and basic crop care information. It is expected that RADA will assist individuals in undertaking and monitoring their cultivations.
    Speaking at the launch, Dr. Tufton stressed the need to deal with the situation as a matter of urgency, pointing out that, “we cannot afford to wait until we reach the stage where we have to confront the crisis in an ad-hoc reactionary manner.”
    He said the Government was committed to improving agricultural production, and would be looking at a number of systemic challenges facing the sector, with a view to boosting productivity and production levels.
    “That is a medium to long term initiative. It involves looking at our research capabilities, enhancing the training of our farmers, engaging more modern technology and modern methods of soil preparation, marketing, animal husbandry, and orchard crop production,” the Minister said.
    He advised that a number of initiatives were being undertaken by the Ministry to promote agriculture, which include strengthening of the Ministry’s marketing department to deal with “periods of gluts and shortages” of products on the market.
    To augment the backyard garden initiative, and solidify the food security thrust, the focus of this year’s Labour Day activities, centred on the theme: ‘Eat what we grow… grow what we eat’. Jamaicans were invited to engage in the planting of fruit trees, vegetables, and other crops, wherever space was available.
    In the early years, rice, which has traditionally been a mainstay in the meals of most Jamaicans, was cultivated in significant volumes locally for the domestic market. Unfortunately, this ceased, forcing the country to resort to importations to meet local demand. Within recent years, Guyana has been supplying the bulk of the country’s needs.
    Against the background of prevailing global developments pertaining to supply and cost, the administration has been exploring the possible resumption of full-scale rice cultivation.
    Experimental cultivation of some four or five different types of rice on a small scale, to determine which would be ideal for local conditions, is being contemplated. This arises out of a feasibility study into the economic viability of the staple’s cultivation, which was commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture, and conducted by a team of consultants. The findings indicated that the country stood to earn between US$3.6 million and US$36.5 million over a 10-year period from the undertaking, if fully implemented.
    The Ministry is also exploring the viability of enhancing cassava production for a variety of uses. In his Budget presentation, Dr. Tufton advised that the Ministry was in the process of conducting a comprehensive development study, to determine the viability of cassava production for human consumption, animal feed, and bio-fuels.
    He indicated that a commitment of support in the area of technical assistance with the undertaking has been received from the Government of Thailand, the world’s third largest exporter of cassava products. He also said that the Ministry had been in touch with livestock interests.
    “We have had discussions with persons in the animal feed sector, and they have committed to working with us to conduct a feasibility study to grow cassava as a substitute for corn to be used as feedstock,” the Minister added.
    He also disclosed that RADA’s Twickenham Bammy Factory, would be expanded through private sector partnership this year, in order to significantly increase production, on the basis of increased demand for the product. Additionally, RADA, the Scientific Research Council (SRC), and the Ministries of Education, Health and Environment, and National Security, along with the Correctional Services Department, have agreed to participate in a project to expand cassava production
    Increased banana consumption is also being undertaken, with Dr. Tufton launching the Banana Consumption Campaign during the Denbigh Agricultural and Industrial Show, in August.
    The campaign, which will be undertaken over the next six to seven months, will seek to educate industry stakeholders, and the general public, on the benefits to be derived from consuming bananas. Sensitisation is being undertaken through a series of promotional activities in supermarkets, hotels, schools, and other facilities and institutions.
    Meanwhile, the administration has been receiving external assistance in its national food security thrust. Jamaica is one of 18 countries which will benefit from a drawdown of approximately US$2 million each, from the PetroCaribe Fund, established by Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, to assist in addressing food security and price increases.
    The funds are to be used to support emergency food initiatives, including fertiliser availability, improve food security, and expand agricultural production.
    Meanwhile, Jamaica and Cuba signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in June, which will facilitate agricultural officials from the latter, assisting the Government’s drive to increase the production of cassava, potato, and other tubers. Jamaica, in turn, will provide Cuba with assistance in the area of research and development.