The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is seeking to reduce the food importation bill from US$1 billion to US$700 million in the short to medium term. “We have targeted some 8,000 acres of government lands that we intend to put into the hands of farmers and we are committed to putting in the basic infrastructure to help to get those lands into production,” said Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Roger Clarke. “We will be working on irrigation systems, we will be helping with extension services and whatever else that can be done …we are going to do it,” the Minister emphasized.
Addressing hundreds of farmers and residents from western Jamaica at the annual Montpelier Agricultural and Industrial Show in St. James on April 2, Mr. Clarke said that thousands of acres of idle lands are available for production, and the Government is determined to reduce the import bill, while putting money into the pockets of farmers. “The Ministry of Agriculture is targeting, between the short and medium term, to reduce that importation bill by at least US$300 million and I think we can do it,” the Minister said. Citing statistics from the Ministry, Mr. Clarke said the importation of foods has been showing a steady decline, as the farmers have increased production in many areas.“In terms of ginger, which we can be proud of, we imported 101,000 pounds in 2011. Last year 53,000 pounds came in, but we exported one million pounds,” the Minister said.
“When it comes to pork, we never had one imported leg of ham in this country last year … every pound of ham that was eaten last year was produced by our Jamaican farmers,” he added. The Minister emphasized that the task at hand is for the country to continue to produce more of what is consumed.
“We are going to produce as we have never produced before, because that is the only way we are going to survive,” he stressed. Mr. Clarke said what he saw at the show was evidence that agriculture is alive and well, and paid tribute to the small farmers. “They are the ones who are feeding us now and who will continue to feed us way into the future,” he added.
Meanwhile, President of the St. James Association of Branch Societies of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), Councillor Glendon Harris, commended farmers in the parish for producing the most ginger in the island last year. Mr. Harris, who is also the Mayor of Montego Bay, pointed out that the farmers had achieved this feat for the first time.