How real is the growth in domestic food production?
Last Sunday, we sought to underscore the necessity of having accurate and reliable employment statistics, as one means of ensuring that the benefits of economic growth are reaching the largest number of Jamaicans.
Reliable measurement of our progress is critical across all areas of the economy, hence our insistence that all State agencies involved in collecting and disseminating national statistics do so in a studious and credible manner.
Obviously, the economic development potential of Jamaica can only be realised and maximised by the most pragmatic policies, based on facts which are subjected to the most rigorous and impartial analysis by people with the appropriate expertise and experience.
There must be a willingness by any government to make available the facts to the public, except where national security would be compromised. All Jamaicans should be encouraged to express their views frankly and without fear of victimisation. In this way, Jamaica will face and tackle the reality in which the country is caught.
Mr Mark Neita’s statement on West Indies cricket is a good example of the kind of frankness which is needed. He was correct and courageous when he said that West Indies cricketers were well-paid professionals who are not performing. He did not seek to sugar-coat it by using platitudes like ‘we lost but there are positives to take away’.
We are very pleased and encouraged to hear, for example, that the agricultural sector is growing and that domestic food production has been increasing. Yet it might be premature to celebrate until we have determined if the growth is real, given where we are coming from.
For example, if in 2014 we produced 10 tonnes of coffee, five tonnes in 2015, and eight tonnes in 2016, it can be argued that coffee production increased in 2016 over 2015, yet it is still not yet back to the level of 2014.
In reality, sugar production has declined steadily from the 1960s and bananas are no longer being exported to the United Kingdom. Ripe bananas are scarce in Kingston. Most of the juices manufactured in Jamaica are based on imported content. Supermarkets carry mostly imported vegetables. At Coronation Market, carrot has jumped in price from $60 to $140 per pound due to scarcity, though prices for some items are falling.
The tourism sector still cannot get a steady supply of certain items and has to import products that can be grown in Jamaica. Imports of food have not declined generally.
We agree with many of the statements about the potential of the agricultural sector, but we advise that fuller analysis be done of the true situation on domestic food production, possibly involving a national process of consultation with farmers, food importers, manufacturers, hoteliers, financial institutions, commodity boards, and all the agencies of government.
We are encouraged by the leadership of Agriculture Minister Karl Samuda and share his belief that it is possible to increase the quantity and quality of our agriculture sector. The recovery of the dairy industry and cocoa production are examples of what can be achieved. Sweet potato is another positive area for which there are opportunities for investment and ready markets overseas. Let us make good use of that fact.