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Opposition Senator, Norman Grant, wants a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) involving Government, Opposition and the farming sector to ensure sustained national focus and budgetary support for the growth and development of agriculture.
Speaking in the 2009/10 State of the Nation Debate in the Senate on Friday (February 19), he said that the MOU would involve setting targets for the sector, and creating a process of cooperation and engagement to ensure that they are achieved.
Senator Grant, the current First Vice President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), said that this was necessary to rescue the country from further social and economical decline that could lead to unrest, and even threaten the democratic process.
He noted that over the last 40 years, the percentage of the budget allocated to agriculture has been approximately one percent, annually. For example, in last year’s budget, he said that Agriculture received $7.2 billion out of a total expenditure of $550 billion
“This is woefully short, and no wonder that we have not been able to expand the economy, as we have starved our productive capacity and has shifted the focus to buy what other countries produce, rather than producing it ourselves,” he lamented.
He said that the MOU would seek to move the sector’s allocation to at least 2-2.5 percent of the national budget, and include agreed output levels and deliveries.
“Let’s together set some targets and work to achieve them,” Senator Grant urged, adding that there is huge potential for growth in agriculture, not only to drive Jamaica’s food security strategy but also to reverse the appetite of Jamaicans for foreign food.
He observed that agriculture is the only sector that has grown sustainably through the current recession, and commended the Minister, Dr. Christopher Tufton, and the Ministry, for setting a reasonably good base. But, more needs to be done and done quickly, Senator Grant said.
In addition, he is urging the Government to intensify the ‘Eat what we grow’ campaign, as a means of increasing domestic crop production.
“It will not only reduce our import bill, create jobs for our people on the farm and in the factories, but it will also reduce our cost of health care, as it is healthier to eat food, fruits, vegetables and meat, that are fresh,” Senator Grant said.
He also suggested that the use of locally grown produce in the school feeding programme should be increased.
“The effort to use local food and juices in our school feeding programme should be intensified and measured,” he said.
Senator Grant stated that not only is primary production fundamental to the process of food security and a better quality of life, but also agro processing which should be given the opportunity to convert primary agriculture into industries.
“I would like to renew the call to convert some of those closed community centres into agro processing factories,” he stated, explaining that this would enhance the presentation of the root crops, fresh vegetables and fruits and whatever cannot meet fresh food markets.
“We should select them and can them, thereby reducing spoilage and wastage, creating jobs and wealth and working idle hands,” Senator Grant recommended.