Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture, J.C. Hutchinson has emphasised that the growth of the agricultural sector is largely dependent on the growth of the cash crop sector.
"Therefore, we have to identify crops that are competitive for us to compete globally, also to provide food security," Mr Hutchinson said as he made his contribution to the 2008/09 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives on May 21.
The State Minister also informed that a study was done by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, with 17 different commodities grown in Jamaica and only 40 per cent of the commodities were judged to be competitive.
"These products turned out to be privately profitable, that is, operated without protection. It found that export market participation is an important condition for competitiveness in Jamaica's case. However, competitive operations represent a small share of all agricultural operations," Mr. Hutchinson said.
Some of the commodities looked at during the study included dasheen, carrots, escallion, hot pepper, sweet potato, yams, ackee, bee keeping (honey), papaya, cocoa, citrus and coffee.
In the case of dasheen, the study showed that it has a high level of competitiveness, compared to its Caribbean counterparts, with Jamaica having the highest yields, with 21 or more tonnes per hectare.
Carrots were shown to be competitive and highly profitable, but the yields are low compared to other major exporting countries.
The study also showed that escallion has a very good export market and is generally profitable, but there was a decline in production because of phytosanitary problems encountered on entering the United States.
"Fortunately, this has been overcome by the growth of the local agro-processing sector," Mr. Hutchinson said.
According to the study, hot pepper has a strong local demand and a year round export demand. However, it has been plagued by many pests that have severely constrained the quality, quantity and stability of market yields.
It was also noted that opportunities for selling hot pepper in restaurants and specialty markets overseas are largely untapped and most promising. Mexico is the dominant supplier of pepper to the United Sates with over 99 per cent of the total import market.
"Both the United States and the United Kingdom are experiencing a consumer trend that favours greater consumption of spicy foods. Jamaica's Scotch Bonnet and the Trinidad West Indian Red Pepper varieties are favoured by these consumers. It is said that these varieties are superior in taste and quality. Hot pepper is, therefore, profitable, unprotected and competitive," Mr. Hutchinson pointed out.
For yams, the State Minister noted that Jamaica showed superior yields compared with other Caribbean countries. Jamaica's yields are approximately 16 tonnes per hectare and the closest to it is Dominica's yield with 15 tonnes per hectare.
Bee keeping (honey) has a lot of competitive strength and it is good as a part-time activity. Jamaica's honey has a quality advantage that confers on it additional export potential.
In the case of papaya yields in Jamaica, it is substantially higher than those of nearby and competing countries in the hemisphere and the fruit is of high quality. All of Jamaica's production is the Sunrise Solo, whereas other countries are growing the large traditional varieties.
"Practically no papaya research is being done in the world; as a result Jamaica can compete globally with some success," Mr. Hutchinson said.
The citrus industry has been severely affected by the Citrus Tristeza Virus (CTV). The Citrus Certification Programme and Citrus Replanting Programmes are two initiatives to counter the threat posed to the industry, the State Minister noted.
"Prospects for citrus should improve if the replanting programme is successful, CTV is arrested, the United Kingdom export market is expanded, and irrigation used for the crops," he said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hutchinson said that currently an investment brief for non-Blue Mountain coffee is being developed with consultants for a project involving the planting of 1,000 acres of coffee outside of the Blue Mountains.
He also pointed out that PriceWaterhouseCoopers Management Consultants have just assisted in completing the strategic review of the Coffee Industry Board, which was conducted with the many stakeholders in the coffee industry.
"The review is being costed and the feedback shared with members of the coffee industry and the wider farming community, with the desire of initiating a cess review that will put the Coffee Industry Board on a firmer financial footing that will enable the Board to execute its mandate with competence,"
Mr. Hutchinson informed.