JIS News

Minister of Finance and the Public Service, Audley Shaw, is looking to revitalize Irish potato production, as rising food prices world-wide increases concerns about food security.
Speaking at the opening of First Caribbean International Bank’s 13th branch in Liguanea yesterday (June 22), Minister Shaw said the suitability of Manchester and about five other parishes in central Jamaica for growing potatoes had been determined over 100 years ago by the missionaries, due to the high elevation of these regions, reaching two to three thousand feet above sea level.
“So when I was growing up”, he said, “Irish potato was the king in Manchester and is still king today in terms of the superior taste that locally produced Irish potatoes have, compared to the ones that we buy from Iowa or elsewhere”.
In stating his intention to put Irish potato back on the map, Minister Shaw said it was not going to be a fight about potato versus cassava, in clear reference to the popularization of cassava by Agriculture Minister, Christopher Tufton, as a potential food source, as the nation grapples with the notion of food security in the face of global challenges.
“It’s not the potato man over here and the cassava man over there. no, it’s about how we can bring potato back to the mix,” he said, pointing out that Irish potatoes could do a lot for the rural economy in terms of the many parishes that could become involved, stretching from the hills of St. Catherine straight back to the hills of Manchester and the upper sections of St. Elizabeth.
Minister Shaw emphasized that his desire to bring back Irish potato was not a dream, but a plan, and he has spoken to the World Bank, which has expressed a willingness to look at the plan.
He informed that he had also spoken to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) about a food security programme, which the bank was putting together. He indicated that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is also putting together a plan to see how it can work with developing countries like Jamaica, “to pick areas. that have clear potential”.
Minister Shaw informed that he was leaving tomorrow for a conference in Mexico to discuss the challenges of food and energy security with finance ministers from the Caribbean and Latin America. “But even as we go to these international fora to interact with them, we must have our plans as well,” he stressed.
“What we are doing with Irish potato is that we are bringing in tissue culture technology,” he said, noting that part of why Irish potato went out was because the cost of the seed potatoes for planting was prohibitive.
“So what we have to do now is to use technology to propagate our own seed potatoes in Jamaica and once we break the back of that we are going to be able to re-establish the potato industry in Jamaica,” he assured.
He said the infrastructure in North East Manchester is intact and only requires rehabilitation. He cited some 100,000 square feet of cold storage capacity that was given to Jamaica by the Dutch Government in the 1960s.
“The building is still there. Some of the refrigeration equipment has to be refurbished, but the infrastructure is there to produce potatoes once or twice per year and with refrigeration facilities, it can be a 12-month crop that can be delivered to the people of Jamaica,” the Finance Minister said.
“And, I know Jamaicans love dem Irish potato,” he added, assuring that “if we get enough Irish potatoes at a reasonable price, we will cut down on the rice, we’ll cut down on some of the other staples.”

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