Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, has urged the country’s potato and goat farmers to produce more, in order to further reduce imports and the associated costs, and safeguard the nation’s food security.
Speaking at the annual general meetings of the Christiana Potato Growers and Jamaica Goat Farmers Associations, in Manchester and St. Catherine, respectively, on February 16, Mr. Clarke noted that there had been significantly high volumes of potato and goat meat imports, within the last few years.
Addressing delegates at the Christiana Potato Growers’ Co-operative offices, Mr. Clarke said that while imports remained high, the farmers’ efforts had been pivotal in halving Jamaica’s import bill for the staple between 2008 and 2010.
“You have allowed us to decrease our import bill for Irish potatoes from US$4 million in 2008 to US$2.6 million in 2010. (Further), you have been able to satisfy much more than a half of the demand for fresh Irish potatoes in 2010 and 2011 from local production. This is a commendable achievement. What this means is that our consuming public is now being fed with more fresh, locally produced varieties that are of the highest standards and quality,” the Minister pointed out.
While applauding the “significant strides” being made in improving production and productivity, Mr. Clarke cited the need for valued added production, which he described as “one important piece of the puzzle that we are missing.” He lamented that Jamaica was importing a wide range of value-added products, such as chips, wedges, and fries, pointing to some US$15.1 million of imports in 2010.
“It cannot be that we are spending valuable US dollars on the importation of by-products that can be produced locally. If we are to advance the gains made in this sub-sector, then a concerted effort must be made to reverse this trend. I am therefore encouraging all potato growers to organise themselves into functional groups that are effective and those that will seek to take production from its primary state to other processed products that are required by our hotel chains, fast food outlets, and other consumers,” he emphasised.
The Minister is also inviting private sector input. He pointed out that while the Government has a role to play in ensuring that the necessary policies are enacted to guarantee that the value chain continues, the private sector must “see the wisdom and the income potential,” in taking operations from primary production through value-added activities.
Meanwhile, in his address at the Jamaica Goat Farmers meeting at the Ministry’s Agricultural Research Station at Bodles, St. Catherine, Mr. Clarke said efforts were being made to augment the small ruminant sector, in order to enhance production and reduce imports. He noted that Jamaicans consume a significant amount of goat meat, but lamented that the country’s small ruminant sector accounts for only 15 per cent of local consumption.
The Minister disclosed that some 1.3 million kilogrammes of goat meat, valued at US$5.2 million, were imported in 2010. He informed that a 2007 agricultural census showed that the country has some 60,000 goat farmers, who have in excess of 482,000 goats.
Mr. Clarke pointed out that the country needs approximately three million goats to attain self-sufficiency. “We are a far way off, but we are not daunted. The Ministry will be doing all it can to facilitate growth in the sector,” the Minister said.
To this end, he said the Ministry has partnered with local and international stakeholders, including the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the European Union, which had provided various inputs for the small ruminant industry, over the past several years.
“They have given us grant funding for many of our projects, totalling millions of dollars, and they continue to do so,” the Minister said.