Tufton wants greater role for agriculture in region’s economy


Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Dr. Christopher Tufton, says that if Caribbean states import less and produce more for domestic and regional use, the agricultural sector could contribute significantly to its economic prosperity and development.
He was speaking, in his capacity as Chairman of the Alliance for the Sustainable Development of Agriculture and the Rural Milleu, during the Caribbean Week of Agriculture in Grenada on Thursday (October 21).
Dr. Tufton said the sector can play an even greater role in the region’s economic success, given the huge captive tourism market, the significant potential for import substitution and the possibilities for increased intra regional trade.
“While we do not have the economies of scale to compete in mainstream commodity markets, we can certainly brand and position our products in niche` markets and the mystique of the Caribbean can certainly lend impetus to this effort,” he argued.
But, he said that to achieve this, the legal framework that underpins regional integration must be reconstructed to facilitate a conscious and deliberate development of the region’s agricultural sector in a manner that is balanced, fair and equitable to all member states.
Dr. Tufton accused the region of failing to achieve the objectives of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, which brought CARICOM into being. What has happened instead is a systematic undermining of regional agriculture, by the consistent importation of huge quantities of raw material from outside the region by local manufacturers, claiming inability of the region to supply their needs, he claimed.
He said that, up to May 2010, the region imported 2.6 tonnes of peanuts, 20 tonnes of plantain chips, 51 tonnes of tomato paste, 15.4 tonnes of pineapple concentrate and 12.6 tonnes of turmeric powder.
“I (can) affirm that Jamaica alone has the capacity to produce all these products in the required quantities,” he noted.
“The truth is we are not now producing these quantities and, if we do not develop our capacity to produce, our manufacturers will always be able to import under the provisions embedded in the Treaty,” he warned.
Dr. Tufton said it is only logical that as the region works to revise the Treaty, they include provisions that deliberately build the Caribbean’s capacity and provide sufficient incentives for regional manufacturers to make the critical link with farmers in the region.
He said it was not sufficient to “comfort ourselves” that when we import raw materials extra regionally, we add some value here.
“To be brutally frank, where the critical input of energy is subsidized, and this is complemented by duty free access of extra regional agricultural raw materials, those manufacturers that are beneficiaries are positioned at a distinct advantage in the common market,” he said.
He argued that the practice does not promote balanced and sustainable development of the agricultural sector, regionally.
He said the time has come, in the interest of the principle of the common market, for issues related to subsidised inputs, such as energy and subsidised duty free extra regional primary output, to be examined in the context of its impact on the capacity of the common market to expand by establishing critical linkages between primary producers and agro processors.
“The common market must seek to create a level playing field and, better yet, an advantage to our farmers to be the providers of raw material, where this is possible,” he stated.

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