Gov’t Targets Organic Produce Industry


The Ministry of Agriculture has allocated $20 million to the development of the organic agriculture industry over the next three years.
The intent is to tap into the international organic market, which is estimated to value some US$25 billion.
Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke, who made the announcement at a special meeting of stakeholders involved in organic production at his Hope offices in Kingston today (Dec. 16), said the project would get underway in January of next year.
The priority commodities, initially targeted for production under the project include vegetables; root crops; tropical fruits; herbs/spices and medicinal plants; beverage crops such as cocoa, coffee and coconut; banana and plantain; grass-fed beef; mutton and goat as well as free range chickens and eggs.
To support the development of the industry, the Minister has proposed the creation of an organic agriculture support unit, to provide technical support to organic farmers, including carrying out research and establishing demonstration plots.
In addition, the Ministry will, with the help of stakeholders, develop a national policy on organic agriculture within the next 12 months and facilitate the drafting of legislation to protect the integrity of the organic agriculture industry.
The meeting also proposed, the support of international certification of an additional 3,000 hectares and local certification of 10,000 hectares of organic produce within the next five years; the establishment of a project for the supply of organic planting material for a select list of crops; facilitating training of organic inspectors, specialist organic extension officers and organic farmers; and the development of a public education programme with supporting information. Organic agriculture is an ecological production method for food, fibre and other products. It shuns the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and dramatically reduces the use of off-farm inputs.
Minister Clarke said that there was a growing market for organic produce as more consumers were demanding wholesome foods. “Many visitors and returning residents have been exposed to organic foods abroad and are desirous of obtaining them here,” he pointed out.
He noted that the production of items such as Blue Mountain coffee, cocoa, pimento, scotch bonnet pepper, yellow yam, ginger, escallion, thyme, as well as select herbs and medicinal plants, using organic standards, would propel them in the realm of gourmet food.
Minister Clarke said that the government strongly supported any venture that would enhance agricultural production. “To improve food safety and to facilitate international trade, we are moving towards the adoption of good agricultural practices in all facets of the agricultural production chain, ” he stated.
He urged farmers to be a part of the process, which is designed to improve food production and ensure the survival of the industry. “The only way some small farmers will earn more is to plant higher value crops,” the Minister said, adding that every supermarket in Jamaica could put aside a section to deal specifically with organic products to cater to their health conscious customers.

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