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Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, says Jamaica must always strive towards achieving food security and to cut down on its food import bill.

"When one recognises the problems we have been facing with food security, and just recently, we had these problems with grain (shortage), it is telling us that we cannot rest on our laurels. We have to continue that battle to feed ourselves and to make sure that food security is a constant on the horizon. We must always strive to move towards that," Minister Clarke said.

He was speaking at an event celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), held on October 10 at the Institute’s Hope Gardens offices.

He said as a small developing country, Jamaica cannot continue to have a high import bill for food, especially at this time when the Net International Reserves (NIR) is dwindling and the country should strive to "grow what we eat and eat what we grow."

"We cannot continue to find ourselves in a situation where last year we imported nearly US$1 billion worth of food into this country. We have to stop that. If we want to import a billion, let us try to export more to find the money to pay for that," he stated.

The Minister, in the meantime, commended the work of the IICA, noting that after seven decades the Institute remains relevant. He said the organisation has been involved in almost every facet of Jamaica's agricultural life over the years.

"You have done much, whether it is in livestock, whether in research, in fisheries, apiculture, or helping to develop farmers' organisations. What is even more commendable is that with the limited staff, you have been able to make such a great impression,” Minister Clarke said.

In the meantime, IICA Representative in Jamaica, Ignatius Jean, assured the Government of the Institute’ continued support to agriculture and the sustainability of rural livelihoods and particularly, the new focus on food and nutrition security.

"On this, our 70th anniversary, we are using our history as a platform from which to envision the future and to thank all those who over the years, as employees of the Institute, have committed themselves to strengthening agriculture and rural development," he said.

He thanked the Government, the farmers and various local and international partners for their support over the years.

In 1975, Jamaica became the first English-speaking Caribbean member state of IICA. Through the years, the Jamaican office has been carrying out its mandate to support agricultural and rural development in the country through managing projects in collaboration with external funding agencies and the Ministry of Agriculture.

Some key activities include: projects in hillside and watershed farming, which promote soil conservation; promoting agricultural health and food safety through training; supporting the production of non-traditional crops; providing assistance for hurricane recovery; supporting rural women through the establishment of the Jamaica Network for Rural Women Producers; recognising young agri-entrepreneurs through the annual Youth in Agribusiness Awards; expanding greenhouse production; and enhancing the fisheries sub-sector.