The programme that will guide the development of eight agro parks across the island is slated to be presented to Cabinet shortly. The programme is being developed by the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), and the agency’s Director General, Dr. Gladstone Hutchinson, said that significant progress has been made, and a submission will be made to Cabinet “in the coming weeks”.
He was speaking at the PIOJ’s quarterly media briefing on Tuesday (November 20), at the Institute’s New Kingston offices. Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, who made the initial announcement in September in the House of Representatives, advised that the Ministry will, over the next three years, invest some US$8 million to develop the parks in six parishes. These are: St. Thomas, St. Catherine, Clarendon, Manchester, St. Elizabeth and Trelawny.
The Minister indicated that the initiative represented a pragmatic approach to enhancing Jamaica’s food security and reducing the country's food import bill. Focus, he informed, will be placed on the production of onions, Irish potato, yam, honey, small ruminants, hot pepper, ginger, turmeric, pineapple, and aquaculture.
Mr. Clarke assured that the parks will be equipped with the requisite infrastructure to ensure sustainable production and enhance post harvest activities. These inputs include: irrigation, drainage, storage, and packing house facilities.
He further advised that the Ministry, in collaboration with the private sector, has identified markets for the crops that will be produced at the parks, while adding that best practices, in terms of crop production, care and handling, will be undertaken.
Dr. Hutchinson underscored the importance of implementing the agro parks initiative, against the background of the reported 0.5 per cent contraction in the agricultural sector during the July to September quarter. This consequent on, among other things, severe drought conditions.
He advised that the parks, which will be developed under the recently enacted Public/Private Partnership Policy, aim to: stabilize the agricultural supply chain; deepen inter-industry links; increase competitive import substitution; and activate unutilized rural land and labour, complemented by improved inputs; and incorporate private sector joint financing and marketing.
“This is an extra-ordinary initiative to stabilize and enhance rural life. And it will have a significant impact, not only on rural poverty and rural economic life, but also in our ability to grow our agriculture sector over the next couple of years in a very important way,” he contended.
Dr. Hutchinson also highlighted the importance of a related initiative, the Climate Change Adaptation Programme, that was launched earlier this month, and which seeks to build the agriculture sector’s resilience, as well as develop protective infrastructure along the island’s coastline.
“The interventions being made by the project are expected to positively impact food production for domestic consumption and export, and contribute to the lowering of the country’s $1 billion food import bill. In short, the impact, while contributing to food security, will also stabilize the commercial supply chain,” the Director General said.