MINISTER of Agriculture and Fisheries Roger Clarke has appealed to farmers to step up production levels and for consumers to consume more local produce to cut the country’s food import bill, which is running at approximately US$800 million per annum.
He said that while all food needs cannot be adequately met at current levels of production, studies have shown that there is the capability to substitute up to 30 per cent of food imports.
“We can make a dent on that (food import bill) and we can save up to US$300 million if we produce more of the things that we use locally,” Minister Clarke told the opening ceremony of the annual Montpelier Agricultural and Industrial Show in St James on Monday.
“Despite the challenges, there are a myriad of opportunities to close the gap and reap rewards. If we want agriculture to grow, we have to do two things; we must produce more of what we eat and export more,” he added.
The minister said that emphasis is being placed on increasing production of a number of crops such as Irish potato, to reduce imports of the produce and value-added items, including French fries.
“Already, we are trying out some new varieties. We intend to make a dent on the importation of those French fries into this country because we can produce it here, and we intend to do so,” he stated.
He pointed to the need for greater synergies between production and marketing to avoid waste and shortages, noting that the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) will have to play a greater role in facilitating the process. Farmers, he noted further, must be willing to change their agricultural practices, to gain efficiencies and greater consistency with supplies.
The agriculture minister said there must be heightened awareness among Jamaicans about the need to play their part in ensuring the nation's food security, by supporting the local agricultural industry.