Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Roger Clarke, says the recovery of the agricultural sector must be based on a return to traditional crops.
Addressing the Jamaica Stock Exchange’s 8th regional capital markets conference at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel on Wednesday (January 23), Mr. Clarke said that there should be more focus on exporting crops that have proven to be successful on the international market in order for the sector to overcome some of the setbacks its has experienced since the 1960s.
He said the agriculture sector has declined nominally from a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contribution of 13.4 per cent in 1963, to 5.6 per cent in 2011.
He pointed out that while the export of non-traditional crops such as dasheen, pumpkin, hot pepper and sweet potato has seen significant improvements, moving to US$135 million in 2011, and rising by 11.3 per cent for the first nine months of 2012, it is traditional crops that Jamaicans are accustomed to growing.
“As sexy as non-traditional appears to be, they simply cannot replace these traditional crops in terms of acreage,” he argued.
Therefore, he stated, to the extent that there are markets for these crops and the ability to move up the value chain, “it makes every sense in the world to fully exploit the potential of these crops”.
Citing the example of sugar, Minister Clarke said the country will, over the next three years, enjoy the highest export prices ever for the commodity, due to supply constrains worldwide.
“For the foreseeable future, even if we ignore the European market, Jamaica is well poised to satisfy its domestic demand, plus a significant portion of CARICOM’s demand from our local production,” he noted.
He said that with the divestment of the government’s shares in the industry, and the current restructuring of the regulatory and institutional framework, the way has been paved for the necessary investments to be made for the sector to fully realize its potential.