By Douglas McIntosh
KINGSTON, Jamaica (JIS) -- Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Roger Clarke, says the administration is seeking to reduce Jamaica’s food import bill by at least US$300 million, in the first instance, through measures to be pursued beginning this year.
Delivering the keynote address at last Saturday's opening of the 60th Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show, Clarke hinted at a review of waivers granted for food imports, as one of the measures that would be explored.
Bemoaning Jamaica’s nearly US$1 billion food import bill in 2011, the minister said, “We have to do something about it, because it is not sustainable. We don’t have the money to bring in that (amount of food), so we must produce some of it here."
"We are analysing what we have been importing and we are going to set a target. We must decrease that importation (bill) by some US$300 million; and the various stakeholders will have to work with us to achieve this. And, those people who believe that they must get everything (from abroad), the time has come when they will have to pay, because all those waivers (for which they apply) are going to be ‘waived’,” the minister added.
Arguing that the agricultural sector is still “trying to find its way” within the context of efforts by successive administrations to ensure the nation’s food security,
Clarke said the campaign to “grow what we eat and eat what we grow,” has eluded the country for generations.
"But, don’t blame it on the farmers of Jamaica. They have tried their best, especially those struggling small farmers, over 200,000 of them. They have been the most resilient set of people that you can ever think of, and they have fed us reasonably well. Although we speak about eating what we grow and growing what we eat, the fact of the matter is that the more we speak about that, it seems as though it’s the more we want to import. So, something must be radically wrong,” he argued.
The minister noted that local Irish potato production had increased significantly this year, pointing out that “we have not imported one container of Irish potato into this country, since January."
“Our (Irish potato) farmers have risen to the occasion, and they are planting… they are producing. Local production must be what we must encourage. Our people can produce, and we are going to work with them to produce,” Clarke asserted.
This year’s Denbigh Show is being jointly staged by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), in collaboration with several private and public sectors stakeholders, under the theme: ‘Eat What We Grow; Grow What We Eat’.
Widely regarded as the premier agricultural, industrial and food expo for Jamaica and the Caribbean, the Denbigh Show, which ran until Monday, August 6, had a number of traditional and new features.
These included produce and livestock displays and judging; cultural performances; the National Champion Farmer and National Farm Queen competitions; Youth in Agriculture, Children, Food, Health Organic, and Olympic Villages; Farmers’ Market; and Denbigh Motor Show.
Special guests this year include: delegations of government and agricultural officials from Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands.