LETTER OF THE DAY - Restructure agriculture sector for growth
THE EDITOR, Sir:
The agriculture sector is considered by many to be a future-growth industry. However, this cannot happen unless the ministry is restructured for growth.
In order to improve its competitiveness, Jamaica must increase the quantity of its output and improve its quality. Therefore, if Jamaica is going to compete internationally, value-added products must be produced. Investing in new technologies and research and development is one way to achieve this goal.
A national agricultural research organisation should be created. This organisation would consist of research institutions, which would be required to provide various sectors of the ministry with market intelligence and international best practices - for example, a crop-research group and an agency for agricultural management.
The former would be required to develop appropriate processing technologies for crops through basic and applied research, while the latter would be responsible for fulfilling the growing need for managerial human resource in the sector.
This agency would be responsible for training farmers in the areas of chemical management, entrepreneurship and basic science; they would also be certified.
It would be mandatory for farmers to continually retool themselves, every five years.
Further, the Government should design an interactive website to inform farmers about the latest developments in the industry, like the iCow in Kenya. The iCow is a mobile phone application that allows farmers to register their cows, and receive individualised texts on their mobile phones, including advice for veterinary care and feeding schedules. This is a perfect example of the impact of technology on agriculture.
Israel has the third-highest number of PhDs per capita, and its farmers are degree holders. In India, there are biotechnological institutes which develop policies for the agro-processing industry through scientific research, and Japan has the National Agricultural Research Organisation which engages in groundbreaking research every year.
The face of agriculture has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Jamaica will not be able to compete effectively on a global level if sufficient attention is not paid to research and development and science and technology. There should be a strong linkage between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining.
The former agriculture minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, understood these issues clearly, and hence the agro-park policy. However, the present minister, Mr Roger Clarke, is an old-fashioned fellow whose outdated thinking will not help the ministry. Therefore, the minister should heed The Gleaner's suggestion and resign before he becomes a national embarrassment.