KINGSTON — The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has provided approximately US$120,000 to undertake a competitiveness study as the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries seeks to develop a programme to address the glut in domestic production.
The study, and a comprehensive glut strategy being put in place, is expected to augment other initiatives that the Ministry has already implemented to ensure full utilisation of excess yields.
Speaking with JIS News, Chief Technical Director in the Ministry, Dr. Marc Panton, explained that the competitiveness study, slated to commence shortly, aims to analyse the entire value chain, with a view to exploring markets for five crops deemed to have export potential. He said the crops will be determined on completion of the study.
Funding for the study forms part of the more than US$15 million loan facility from the IDB to finance an Agricultural Competitiveness Programme (ACP), aimed at increasing competitiveness in the sector by: enhancing the capacity of small and medium- sized farmers to access national and international markets; increasing the performance of Jamaica’s food quality and safety management systems, and; fostering the development of agricultural and agro-processing value chains.
The agricultural sector has recorded significant growth over the last seven to eight quarters, with a 24 per cent increase in production for the period January to March, which was the highest in 11 years.
Dr. Panton said the figures indicate that not only are farmers producing more but they are tending to go towards excess. “We have seen that, and one of the steps we took was the farmers’ markets, which have been working well. We have been able to take some $102 million worth of produce out of the system, (the equivalent of) over two million pounds of produce…we have done well,” he stated.
He noted however that the farmers’ markets alone are not sufficient to adequately address the issue noting that what is needed is a comprehensive strategy that will ensure “optimal utilisation of crops traditionally experiencing excess outputs when harvested.”
This move, he said, would incorporate development of key areas such as post-harvest management and marketing. “It means that we may have to do a couple things – value adding, storage, and (looking at) the potential for export. If it is that we are looking at the potential for export, (then) how do we penetrate the markets in a sustainable fashion”? We don’t want to just send (produce) and that’s it; we want to develop that strategy,” he outlined.
He told JIS News that the Ministry has been working with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) to develop the comprehensive strategy and the organisation has committed a consultant to prepare a draft framework.
“We are anticipating that within the next six to eight weeks, we should have, basically, a working document. This should ensure that in the years to come…we can alleviate some of the excesses we have,” he stated.
Dr. Panton said the farmers’ markets aside, the Ministry has undertaken several other initiatives; among these, is the establishment of a glut fund. He explained that this $50 million facility, financed by the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ), provides interim financing for agro-processers to take off the excess capacity for value-added production and also to store supplies for use during shortages.
“That fund is, actually, managed by our Agro Invest Corporation (AIC). Processors are pre-approved…so, essentially, all they have to do is apply,” he explained.
Dr. Panton disclosed that some 12 to 13 crops, with the potential to yield excesses, which will be targeted, have been identified. These include vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce and tomato, and roots and tubers, such as sweet potato and cassava.
“We are trying to look at (the situation) very holistically and wish to get to a point where,…we… eliminate that (glut), so our farmers will be encouraged to continue their level of production,” Dr. Panton underscored.
By DOUGLAS McINTOSH, JIS Reporter