Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Audley Shaw, says the Government has identified four distinct markets for locally grown foods.
These markets, he notes, are the hotel industry; the CARICOM region, where fresh and processed foods can be exported duty-free; the diaspora, and the national school-feeding programme, which will see children eating fresh foods, instead of imported and often genetically modified foods.
The Minister was delivering the main address at the Clarendon Municipal Corporation-sponsored Clarendon Agro-Economic Symposium, held at St. Gabriel’s Church Hall in May Pen on April 9.
Mr. Shaw said that Jamaicans are being encouraged to use locally grown produce, as this will assist in lowering the food import bill.
The Minister said there is a plan to increase local production, and “we will start with some 30,000 to 40,000 acres of land that will be leased”.
“I am sending a message to all, including those who have land that is now idle – use it or lose it – because we have to ensure the country’s food security,” the Minister said.
The Minister said he is encouraging farmers in need of land to come with a plan, and “we will find creative ways to help you, starting with irrigation systems”.
Mr. Shaw cited the Essex Valley agricultural project in St. Elizabeth, where about 1,000 farmers are being assisted with drip irrigation.
He also noted that farmers in Clarendon and St. Catherine will not be left out, as they will also be helped with small drip irrigation systems.
Meanwhile, the Minister said that agro-processing centres are to be set up across the country and they will be run by private individuals, adding that GraceKennedy will set up an agro-processing centre in Denbigh, Clarendon, very soon.
He said the company will be able to purchase foods from farmers and process them at the centre.
The Minister noted that another centre will be operating from Williamsfield in Manchester, for the processing of fresh foods, so farmers can be certain of markets for all they produce.
Mr. Shaw said that at Lydford in St Ann, there will be a modern agro-processing facility and storage for fresh foods that can be sold to hotels in a timely manner.
He said that through these initiatives, large and small farmers will have the certainty “that what they grow, they will be able to sell”.
Sponsors of the symposium were JAMPRO, GraceKennedy, United Nations Jamaica, H&L Agro, AP&FM Project, JN Small Business Loans, National PC Bank, Agro-Invest Corporation, Social Development Commission and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).