Speech delivered by The Hon. Roger Clarke, Minister of Agriculture And Fisheries

Montpelier Agricultural Industrial & Food Show

Easter Monday, April 9, 2012
Montpelier, St. James


Mr. Chairman, PS Stanberry, sponsors, farmers, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, Good Afternoon. It is my pleasure to be here today to celebrate with you another year of the Montpelier Agricultural Show. I have completed the tour of the show grounds and from the look of things, I am pleased to see the improvements made in the staging of this event and the efforts of our farmers, who have remained resilient in the face of severe challenges. I am not here to tell you ‘sweet nothings’, but instead to issue a call of action for all of us, be it farmer, private sector, whoever you are – as long as you’re Jamaican, for us to get serious, to work together for the common cause of advancing the welfare of our farmers and the people of Jamaica.

Crunch Time

You see, we are at crunch time ladies and gentlemen, and it cannot be business as usual. We have to change our approach. We have to begin to support in a more heightened way our farmers and buy more locally produced items. We have to invest in ourselves and not rely on others to do so. We have to begin to change our agricultural practices to gain efficiencies. We have to stem the tide of imports by increasing production, providing greater consistency of supply and improved quality of our products thereby placing the money into the hands of local farmers. There is much to be done, but it won’t happen overnight, it requires all of us, of whatever colour, to work with each other.

Challenges and opportunities in Agriculture

Despite the challenges however, there are a myriad of opportunities in which we can close the gap and begin to reap rewards. The development of the agricultural sector is not a difficult process. If we want agriculture to grow, we have to do two things:

I am not here to tell you ‘sweet nothings’, but instead to issue a call of action for all of us, be it farmer, private sector, whoever you are-as long as you’re Jamaican, for us to get serious...

1. Produce more of what we eat (aka import substitution) and

2. Export more. That’s it!!

Our food import bill is running just over 800 million US dollars but I don’t want us to believe that we can substitute all of what we bring in. We have to be realistic. We still want rice to eat; we still need corn and soya bean to feed our animals etc. Those we cannot substitute in adequate quantities at this time. But our studies have shown that we have the capability to substitute 30% of the food we import. This means that we could be saving the country almost 300 million US dollars a year if we buckle down and get serious. We have had some successes for example, the Irish potato whereby imports have dropped from 70% of total consumption to 35%. I am not mentioning this figure to gloat but to prove that if we put our minds to it, we can achieve import substitution success.

With regards to exporting more, we have a number of crops, both traditional and non-traditional, that are the best in the world and are in high demand by the diaspora and other nationals. Our traditional crops, cocoa, banana, coffee and sugar to name a few have put Jamaica on the map and although our production levels aren’t where they used to be, the opportunity for revitalization and expansion are strong. The export of yam, which is our major non-traditional crop, was valued at $1.65B Jamaican Dollars in 2010. The industry is valued at 5 billion Jamaican Dollars. Our ginger and turmeric have been scientifically proven to be the best and even though we have started to produce more, we are only able to supply a fraction of the demand. And I haven’t even begun to speak about our value-added items such as pepper sauces which command premium prices under brand Jamaica.

I am really proud of all the wonderful things on display today and know that Jamaica has the capacity to produce almost anything, but if we select 6-10 crops and seriously focus on being the best on these crops, I know Jamaica can grow itself out of its problems. With that in mind, let me mention a few:

Banana potential

Banana is a crop in which we have had tremendous success in years gone by. It is one of the most popular fruits in Jamaica, with production currently at 90,000 tonnes, but we have witnessed a very worrying trend, in that we are importing more and more chips! Last year, we imported US$8.4 million worth of chips, up from US$3.7 million in 2010. We are indeed ‘going bananas’….I don’t see why we are importing banana chips when we can satisfy that market.

A few days ago, I opened three plant nurseries where farmers can purchase new high yielding disease resistant banana and plantain varieties. With help from the European Union with grant funding totalling 134,542 euros, we have established nurseries at:

  • CASE, Portland
  • Orange River Agricultural Station in St. Mary and
  • Knockalva Agricultural School in Hanover.

We have also established seven demonstration plots across the island where farmers can see the potential and learn more about growing the new varieties. We expect the new varieties will result in a 30% increase in cost efficiency and with increased volumes will supply chip factories and other agri-businesses with fruits to extend the value chain and build a strong sustainable domestic market. I am encouraging the farmers here in St. James to get the new varieties and reverse current trends.

Cocoa

The growing price of cocoa around the world is not lost on us and that is why it has to be an important crop in Jamaica’s agriculture mix. The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) last year stated that cocoa prices have almost doubled in the past five years moving from US$1,540 in 2005 to US$3,135 in 2010.

You know, although we are all excited about the increase in price of the cocoa bean, the Ministry believes that there must be a shift away from the commodity mentality to value added. Gone should be the days when we allow others to extract and enjoy the value of this precious commodity. It is for this reason that the Ministry has chosen to separate the commercial function from the Cocoa Industry Board and allow greater private sector involvement.

While we have seen better days in our Cocoa sector, I strongly believe that the major obstacle at this point is the absence of private investors who will be willing to market and brand our product. In this regard, we are inviting investors to capitalize on the world’s richest flavoured cocoa.

Inland fisheries/Aquaculture

We have a significant challenge with inland fisheries – the parrot and the snapper populations are declining rapidly. We import up to three times the amount (65,000 tonnes) than what we catch in our waters (22,000 tonnes). Let’s face it we love our fish!! Especially at this time of the year, but we are not supporting our local industry. Jamaica by virtue of its water and climate is suitable to producing tilapia, shrimp, and oysters; unfortunately, we are not anywhere, where we need to be.

The Ministry sees tremendous potential in supplying the local population with tilapia which is a delicious protein source. The problem is that people have not fully gravitated towards eating the tilapia. It’s interesting that this is the most sought after fillet fish in the United States but here in Jamaica we have not seen the value in it yet. I am here to tell you that as part of the way forward, the Ministry will be promoting the consumption of tilapia. We have already started to work with our farmers in improving the genetics, increasing feed efficiencies and improving husbandry practices so that the fish can be produced with consistently high quality and affordable prices.

Inland fisheries, also provides great opportunity for people to earn a reasonable income with limited resources. For example, raising ornamental fish for export in black tanks in relatively small spaces, or raising shrimps in black tanks for the local market.

Small Ruminants

Small Ruminant Development is a critical area of focus for the Agriculture sector. Goat and sheep production in Jamaica has far more potential than what is being currently pursued. A recent report by the CARICOM Secretariat noted that “small ruminants have the potential for expanding the chevon supply in Jamaica which is now being satisfied mainly through extra-regional imports”. In other words, we are importing from places, even outside of the Caribbean, what we are more than capable of producing ourselves.

Goat production, in particular, is very conducive to small farmers and resource-poor farming systems and has the potential to enhance the income and livelihood of these groups. Currently, we are importing over 80% of goat meat costing well over 600 million Jamaican dollars. Production from the Small Ruminant Sector in Jamaica accounts for approximately 15% of total mutton and chevon consumption locally.

There is an urgent need for satisfying our domestic demand and developing more value-added activities. Much greater emphasis needs to be placed on low-cost production systems based on indigenous feed resources and feeding systems.  Marketing systems must be modernized and upgraded; and quality assurance must be to the highest degree. We cannot ignore the challenges but the opportunities which exist far outweigh what we see.

Pigs

We are far more self-sufficient in the production of pigs but there is greater need for collaboration with all the various sectors.  There is more room for investment in the Pig industry.  The aim of the Ministry is 100% self-sufficiency.  In Jamaica, approximately 55% of the carcass goes to waste, while in other developing countries all parts of the carcass are utilized.  This says that for every dollar  invested, we throw away 55 cents down the sewer.  The Ministry plans to reverse this trend by exploring the usage of other parts of the pig with the various sectors such as the Jerk Sector which plays a major role in the development of the overall pig industry.

Honey

The honey sector is one of the sweetest sectors for any investor today.  It has the capacity to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of the ordinary Jamaican and it has a relatively secure market as competition is significantly reduced due to the risk of imported exotic pests.

Jamaica’s capacity for beehive population is currently 52% of actual demand.  The potential exists for new entrants to the market as the art of beekeeping/honey production is quite simple once the fear is overcome.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are at a critical juncture. We need all hands on deck for the survival of our industries which are filled with significant potential. It is my fervent wish that we begin to engage each other and do our part in ensuring our own food security. I commit to do, as I have done before, all that I can for the betterment of our farmers and our people.

God bless you and Happy Easter.