The elusive growth: Agriculture (Part 2)


Sunday, May 27, 2018

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“If education is the forgotten child in the Jamaican family, agriculture is the wayward one. It's a matter of choice: one has nowhere going and the other has nowhere to go” — Edward Seaga

Up until the mid-1960s Jamaica was run by “king sugar” and while bananas had no royal position, it could be called “queen” banana. They were the two drivers of the Jamaican economy.

In the middle of the 1960s both of these products enjoyed a favoured position from Britain which bought all our sugar and bananas at special prices that enabled them to compete. However, pressure by other nations and international bodies to remove all preferential prices made it impossible for them to be profitable. If my memory is correct, some small amount still qualified for preferential treatment but not enough. This was the end of the story of agriculture as the driver of the Jamaican economy unless our products could be produced cheap enough to compete with market prices.

Sugar faced the problem of high cost which eliminated all but two producers from competitiveness. The problem was obsolete practices, especially in irrigation. The modern irrigation system consists of a very tall pole carrying sprinklers on an extended arm which waters 80 hectares (200 acres) at one time.

This constant supply of water provides 80 per cent of the water directly to the roots of the plants compared to only 20 per cent by the existing obsolete canal system, a remarkable irrigation gain which produces higher growth and profit. Only two sugar estates had this equipment because it was expensive. The others continued to use the obsolete, failed canal method.

Now that sugar and banana have been reduced to small production levels, attention must be given to what can be done to bring agriculture back to the previous levels of the golden years. There are many solutions. Some of which I mentioned in my last article:

1. To refresh memories, I indicated that marijuana, while being illegal, had come to attention internationally over the past couple years as offering miracle cures for several medical conditions using some of its 600 species. These selected species were now accepted and publicised internationally. Marijuana is a popularly grown plant in Jamaica and if the medical species were legalised the countries would now be able to reap some of the huge profits from these medical varieties.

The way is clear for us to replace a significant portion of what has been lost from sugar and bananas if we move forward quickly.

2. Jamaica Sea Island Cotton has a worldwide-favoured position and sells for the highest price because of its smooth quality. It is so popular that importers from abroad regularly put up the money for growers in Jamaica to plant and pay back from profits. So why is it not possible to expand production to meet world demand?

3. For Europe, in particular, higher prices are paid by consumers for vegetables organically grown, that is, not fertilised by chemicals. In St Catherine alone there are some 12,000 vacant acres of level land which could be used for planting organic vegetables favoured internationally for health reasons. The only need is water, which can be provided from the overflow of the Rio Cobre.

4. Today, only 50 per cent of the demand for honey worldwide is being met. This means that a vast increase of honey production is possible, yet there is very little cultivation in Jamaica.

Jamaica produces one of the finest varieties honey in the world. Yet, while honey is not plentiful on supermarket shelves, it appears that virtually nothing is being done to increase the production. Get some more beehives or talk to the present set of local bees about their product!

5. Greenhouse technology, known as hydroponics for plants and aquaponics for fish, is a remarkable way to lower costs by concentrated integration of water, and feed solutions for growth using computer- controlled inflows. Twenty years ago I spoke on this subject in a budget address in Parliament, in which I was able to quote multiple times more production — in some instances up to 30 to 40 per cent.

This massive leap forward gives far more production for the dollar, and I am not speaking hypothetically, these gains were made in the only hydroponic operation of any scale in Jamaica, in which the operator — after substantial success — overextended himself and lost his greenhouse to the bank. But one mistake does not a failure make. The idea is excellent and should be resurrected. The lower cost can enable exports to many hotels in the Caribbean which use the more expensive imports.

6. Where are all the beautiful citrus fruits in Jamaica? Where is the big ugli fruit that got a name change because it is one of a kind in the world? There are not enough plants to supply the local market which would be ready and willing to buy. Even the ortanique could take an increase in production. What's wrong?

7. Blue Mountain Coffee, which enjoys the top position in the world, should be expanded by planting more or obtaining advice from Costa Rica on how they produce far more than Blue Mountain at present. There is a strong market in the Middle East, where coffee is the sublime drink.

8. Where is the soursop which is supplied by the other Caribbean countries and where is the custard apple?

There is much more to say but it all adds up to one thing. Agricultural products need their own JAMPRO to entice new growers and find markets for the products. With the addition of this special attention, agriculture would contribute much more to the gross domestic product of Jamaica.

Don't leave any land unused! There are products for the mountains and seaside, but I won't go any further now.

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