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The Government plans to cease importing Irish potatoes within the next two to three years, as part of the thrust to reduce the country’s high food import bill.

This was disclosed by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Donovan Stanberry on Tuesday, June 11, during a ceremony to officially launch the Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show 2013, at the Ace Supercentre in White Marl, St. Catherine.

“We have put in place the necessary policy and support systems to ensure that within the next two to three years we can stop importing table Irish potatoes all together,” Mr. Stanberry said.

The Permanent Secretary is optimistic that this target can be achieved within the time frame as the Ministry is working to sustain the current production level of locally grown Irish potatoes, which is currently between 80 and 85 per cent.

Mr. Stanberry said that for this year in particular, farmers have benefitted greatly from the production of the crop, noting that the farm gate price “has not gone below $45 per pound of Irish potato”.

The Permanent Secretary said the Ministry also intends to replicate the “Irish potato experience” with onions, which also contribute to the huge import bill, noting that it is “just mind blowing in terms of the amount of onions we consume and we are importing” on a yearly basis.

“In the same way that we have treated with Irish potato, we are also going to treat with onions by providing the necessary support through the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), by arranging financing through the Peoples’ Cooperative (PC) Banks and Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ),” he stated.

He said further that “we will also be making a significant portion of the 8,000 acres of lands in our agro parks (available) to onion farmers and by managing the imports to ensure that in a similar way, we can increase significantly, the amount of onion we consume from local production and in the process our farmers make a little money.”

Mr. Stanberry noted that in its drive for Jamaicans to eat more locally produced crops, the Government will seek to ensure that consumers do not pay excessively high prices for local produce.

“But I think that in those two products, we are competitive and I think over time, as the production stabilizes, you will see the prices also stabilise,” Mr. Stanberry assured.

The Permanent Secretary also cited the success of ginger and turmeric, noting that ginger production has doubled over the last year due principally to the “one acre and half acre farmers, who collectively were able to give that kind of a bumper production and we are going to continue to support them with a $120 million programme this year.”

“The only way to get success is to be deliberate. What we have realized in the Ministry is that pronouncing policy is necessary but not sufficient. If we want the production, we have to literally go out there in the field with the farmers, roll up our sleeves …in the Ministry we have to be on the ground with the farmers, putting in the financing, helping them with the extension with the farmer field school and I can guarantee if you do that, our farmers always respond,” he said.

The 61st staging of the Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food, will be held from August 4 to 6 in May Pen, Clarendon. The event will feature displays of crops and livestock, culinary arts exhibits, seminars, conferences and lectures.

Contact: Alecia Smith-Edwards