GRANT... country people run to town and there’s no land to farm in town
PRESIDENT of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) Norman Grant is calling on the Government to fix critical problems in the agricultural sector if it intends to achieve five per cent GDP growth in four years.
Grant, who was speaking to the Jamaica Observer in a telephone interview on Tuesday, said the agricultural sector presents the best opportunity to achieve the country’s growth target of five per cent by 2020, which was set by the Economic Growth Council.
The president explained that the agricultural sector can be the game changer for the economy in 2017, as the foundation has already been set with the 28 per cent growth in agricultural output in the third quarter of 2016. “The start for farmers in 2016 was good,” Grant said. “Poultry saw tremendous growth, in the 20 per cent region, and we are producing close to 115 million kilogrammes of poultry meat, which, in fact, makes Jamaica self-sufficient in whole poultry meat.
“Eggs were also a star performer as we are self-sufficient in table eggs, and pork has also done tremendously well to the extent where we didn’t have to import,” the JAS president stated, adding that traditional crops, such as coffee and banana, also did “relatively well”. But Grant noted that it is a “make or break” year for farmers, insisting that in order for the sector’s growth trend to continue, certain problems must be addressed. According to Grant, the land titling system needs to be overhauled, which he said is necessary to provide further access to capital for farmers. He noted that while capital is available, the JAS thinks it could be more accessible to farmers. Grant said the JAS would like to see more money being made available to small-and medium-sized farmers in order to strengthen the existing infrastructure, so farmers can grow higher quality produce at more competitive prices. “Further expenditure needs to be allocated to rural and farm road infrastructure,” he charged. “The farm roads and conditions are very bad. What we’d like to see the Government do is increase allocation to the Ministry of Agriculture on the expenditure for farm road repairs,” Grant told the Observer. At the same time, he called for a broader agenda for rural development, in order to facilitate the “well-needed transformation of rural areas”. “All of the country people run to town and there’s no land to farm in town,” Grant asserted. “One of the major reasons for this is the lack of utilities available in rural areas and so the JAS would like to see… the JPS (Jamaica Public Service) moving to put adequate power supplies in rural areas and the National Water Commission (NWC) correcting the evil against farmers and rural people where we have no water in rural areas.” Grant stressed that for years, “country people have been carrying water on their heads in order to plant a little plant and there is a whole lot of water going to waste”. “Both the NWC and the National Irrigation Commission, members of Parliament and parish councils, need to represent the people and ensure the rural infrastructure is in place,” he bemoaned. Grant maintained that availability to water, more so proper irrigation systems, cannot be overstated as periods of drought in recent years had severely affected domestic crop production. “What we need to do is to ensure that the agriculture sector can grow, notwithstanding drought, and so there needs to be an investment in irrigation,” Grant reiterated. “We need to go back to mini dams, rainwater harvesting as part of the strategy to ensure that we containerise water when there is available water for it to be used during drought time, so a consistent level of production throughout the period is maintained.” Meanwhile, the JAS president noted that praedial larceny remains a key problem. He said the criminal activity has particularly been hindering the sheep and goat industry, which he said has driven up the country’s import bill. Grant noted that this year, JAS is hoping for more support from the police. He said the organisation has already reached out to Acting Commissioner of Police Novelette Grant for more assistance.