Psalm 18:22 states: "The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone." This seems an apt description of the prospects and outlook of the agriculture sector.
This critical sector has been neglected from the 1960s as the vogue in economic development thinking was that development involves the relative decline of agriculture in employment, growth, exports and GDP. The leading role of agriculture in an economy was the symbol of underdevelopment and the belief was that modernisation and real development entailed a transition from agriculture-dominated economies to industrialisation.
In the 1960s, the newly independent Jamaica became infatuated with the then fashionable strategy of import-substitution manufacturing and then later on replaced that panacea with tourism. The rise of the bauxite industry seemed to vindicate the push for industrialisation.
Nothing was wrong with promoting industrialisation and tourism. Their emergence and growth served to diversify the mono-crop plantation economy, generating vital export savings/earnings and employment. Tourism is now the virtual lifeblood of the economy despite the Government's intention to tax it to death.
But the problem over many years was the neglect of agriculture, which was reflected in reduced government support in extension services, infrastructure, investment and research.
That neglect has been very costly, because the sector for too long failed to realise its potential to fulfil its vital role in the Jamaican economy. Agriculture is a source of food, export earnings, raw materials for manufacturing, investment, employment and taxation.
The decline in agriculture is evident in the increasing dependence on imported food in categories where Jamaica was traditionally and can still be self-sufficient. These imports also deprive the economy of foreign exchange.
In addition, the fall in agricultural output resulted in reduced wages and employment, and there is a direct correlation between the fall in employment in agriculture and the rise of urban unemployment, poverty and crime.
The decline of sugar production since 1965 is emblematic of the decline in attention to agriculture by successive governments, which was obvious in the appointment of the least able politicians to the post of minister of agriculture.
This time, however, the notable exception is the appointment of Dr Christopher Tufton, whose intellect, fixity of purpose and vision are now starting to reap rewards for the sector.
Now, with the rise in food prices across the world, domestic food production and export agriculture are once again profitable businesses with growing demand. Last week, Dr Tufton reported a seven-fold increase in domestic food production here. Farmers and investors, local and foreign, are realising the opportunities to be seized. Note the Chinese interest in the sugar industry.
Private enterprise will be the driving force in any expansion of agriculture but the Government can aid the process further by pushing harder for low-interest long-term loans, improved infrastructure, research, extension services, training and quality policy support through the Ministry of Agriculture. The potential economic and social benefits are enormous.
As a people, we must do our part by supporting the 'Grow what we eat, eat what we grow' programme and help sustain the agriculture comeback.