MINISTER of Agriculture and Fisheries Robert Montague has challenged players in the agriculture sector to increase its contribution to the country's gross domestic product (GDP).
Addressing a meeting of food importers at the Pegasus Hotel on Tuesday, Montague said that the sector contributes five-and-a-half per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country, yet it employs 18 per cent of the labour force.
"Our challenge as players in this industry is to turn that around in the shortest possible time. Let agriculture contribute 18 per cent and employ five per cent of the labour force," he said. "It would be $18 being shared for five persons. Therefore, the average income would be extremely high and we can then share what we have."
Montague also told food importers that they needed to be more mindful and more careful of how they trade, as they were required to meet certain standards. He also encouraged them to ensure that steps are in place to satisfy the food industry.
"The Jamaican market is a very important marketplace and a lot of other countries depend upon it for their goods," the minister said.
"Agriculture is not a welfare activity; it is a business and we believe we should create the environment and the opportunities to make (it) profitable."
Montague said that with the expenditure of over $69 billion on the importation of foods and meats, he wanted to ensure that these produce were satisfactory to the Jamaican people.
The minister pointed towards the improvement in the canning of more fruits, the development of the pork industry, and the usage of more local products in the approximate 662,000 lunches provided in the schools feeding programme.
The importers pledged a sum of $4.25 million towards the development of agriculture in five schools, which displayed earning potential in their exhibits at the recent Denbigh Agricultural show. The schools — Manning High, Oberlin High, Spauldings High, St Mary High and the College of Arts, Science and Education — will be encouraged in their projects, one of which was the collection of fish scales from fishing beaches and then used to make plastics and glues, while another reused water from fish tanks in a hydraulic display to grow vegetables.