I use this medium to offer sincere congratulations to the Hon Floyd Green MP, the new Minister of Agriculture & Fisheries. I not only wish him well but assure him that he has my support and advice, which advice he will be able to freely read from time to time in these columns. I am not given to hyperbole; hence I would not wish the following statement to be taken out of context. With all due respect to the Most Honourable, The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, the Hon. Floyd Green as the Minister of Agriculture & Fisheries in his present ministerial capacity represents the future of this blessed isle.
Agriculture provides this nation with the opportunity not only to substantially feed itself, to engage in meaningful import substitution, to provide the basis for substantial value- added manufacturing, but to provide employment to hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans. A well developed and strong agricultural sector has the potential to be transformative of rural Jamaica, for ever!
In my column of 8 July 2020, I stated, inter alia, the following which I repeat, simply for the benefit of the new Minister, who might not have seen it.
“The challenge that the country has is to substantially increase the output of domestic agriculture. In order to achieve this substantial increase in both production and productivity a number of things are required. Firstly, we need large flat fertile lands to be brought into agricultural production. Secondly, agriculture needs a huge influx of younger persons to be involved. Thirdly, the financing of agriculture must change. This is the basis of the conundrum.
In the last 40 years, whether by design or by skilful negligence, more and more of the island’s flat, fertile lands have been converted from agricultural production into housing developments. Drive to any parish, it is the same. Pick any parish except perhaps St. Thomas and ask the questions and the answers will be the same. Whether it is Richmond Llandovery in St. Ann, Inswood in St. Catherine, Gray’s Inn in St. Mary, or Sevens Estate in Clarendon. Large swathes of prime agricultural lands have been converted into housing stock. Choose any other parish and the result will be the same. The First Conundrum- how do we as a country provide the thousands of housing solutions required for our people while at the same time committing most of the large flat fertile lands to agriculture? The answer- redeveloping our cities and towns, most of which already have the basic infrastructure whilst using hilly lands for housing. Architectural competitions for the most creative designs will yield much fruit.
The Second Conundrum- how do we make agriculture a “sexy” employment option for young people? The answer-decent liveable wages + plus incentives+ health insurance. The BPO sector has shown what can be done.
Statin’s data for January 2020 reveals that out of a total employed labour force of 1,369,500, the four top occupations were:
Service workers and shop and market sales workers 328,700
Professionals Senior Officials and Technicians 276,400
Skilled agricultural and Fishery workers 191,800
Elementary occupations 191,600
As a country, we have more paper pushers than persons in agriculture!
Agriculture needs to be the largest employer of persons in the country. A part of the challenge that we will have is to get more persons to be employed in agriculture than to be self-employed hard-scrabble farmers on barely fertile hillside land. There is no shame in being employed in agriculture once the wages and conditions of work are decent!
The Third Conundrum- how do we finance 21st century agriculture? The financing of agriculture is not a mystery. The old British colonisers did it for over 300 years. Banks and Joint Stock companies in London, Bristol and Liverpool financed Jamaica plantations for years.
Why is it that large private sector commercial farms such as Appleton, Worthy Park, and Jamaica Producers have and continue to do well? The contract farming programme maintained by Jamaica Broilers, Caribbean Broilers and latterly Red Stripe (for casava) continue to do well. There is money in agriculture.
Gassan Azan and his Bernard Lodge plans are a start. However, the country needs many many more ventures such as these”.
The potential of agriculture is awesome. The numbers in the developed countries are huge. In 2017 agriculture’s output in the USA was US$1.053 trillion. In Canada in 2016 it was CDN$111.9 billion. In Australia agriculture and Agri-processing produced a value of Aus.$ 150 billion. What are we waiting on?
May I suggest that working with the Ministers of Education and Finance that The Minister creates a minimum of 90 full agricultural scholarships each year to CA.S.E. for suitably qualified young Jamaicans resident here, the only condition being that the graduates work in agriculture in Jamaica for 5 years after graduation( whether as worker or entrepreneur).
May I further suggest that the Minister works with the Minister of Industry, Investment & Commerce to craft an import policy to treat with the increased agricultural output. There is nothing more disheartening to a farmer than to produce and then either not to have a market, or to see his market being undercut by imports (usually of seconds). I urge the Minister not to yield on this.
From a purely political perspective, the Minister must not forget that 45 of the 63 constituencies are rural ones. The Minister, I suspect, is aware of how his agricultural revolution could completely transform his native parish of St. Elizabeth.
Minister, this paper and your columnist’s advice is free.