“Our farmers… Growing what we eat”
Ladies and gentlemen good afternoon.
For the past 58 years, the JAS has presented the Denbigh Agricultural Show as a spectacular must-see event for many persons. This is the place where farmers showcase the best of their livestock and produce. It is a wonderful social event for friends and family to share time together, while enjoying our rich agricultural heritage.
The uniqueness of the Denbigh Agricultural Show has not only captured our attention but also neighbours and partners in the Caribbean. Lady Allen and I thoroughly enjoyed touring the booths, and I welcome the opportunity to share with the Jamaica Agricultural Society in recognizing and celebrating the commitment which the farmers of Jamaica have to agriculture. This is an organization of which I can truly say, I am proud to be its patron.
I also notice with interest and pride that RADA and CASE are being showcased at this year’s staging of the show, and quite fittingly so because of the central role that these two entities have played in the development of agriculture in this nation. Twenty years of solid leadership for RADA and 100 years of training, testing and transmitting to our farmers the skills and expertise necessary to improve and market their produce by CASE. Congratulations RADA and CASE.
Our farmers are undeniably very hard working people who operate daily under varying weather conditions, and often exposure to very difficult circumstances. Despite the challenges, you press on and do not flinch. You plough, you sow, you plant, you reap your crops; you feed, you care, you milk, you sell; many times when we are asleep you are out soldering away at your profession and today we have the opportunity to say “thank you for your sacrifice and hard work so we can have wholesome, nourishing food on our tables and additionally a celebration of this magnitude.
It is fitting that we are acknowledging your contribution to Jamaica on the first of August, the anniversary of the day on which our forebears achieved their freedom from slavery in 1838. Your never-say-die attitude is the essence of our Jamaican identity and a fitting tribute to those who gave their lives in the struggle for freedom. It was in this sector that most, if not all of them worked, under back breaking and degrading conditions. Sadly, we have not fully experienced the joy of emancipation and we will not until we fully subscribe to the motto ‘eat what we grow, grow what we eat”. Too much of what we eat is grown and produced by others when we can do it ourselves. I would dare to challenge any one to name me one agricultural item that we import that cannot be produced in Jamaica.
We must continue to emancipate ourselves from this dependence syndrome we need to move away from the mindset that if it is not from abroad it is no good. If that is so why do we often travel with Jamaican products when we go abroad to give to friends and relatives? How many cans of ackee, roasted breadfruit fried fish and other Jamaican products line our luggage when we go abroad. We must be proud of what we produce; eat it and share it.
Jamaican farmers for years have worked under difficult circumstances and often with limited resources battling severe drought, bush fires, army worm infestation, and spoilage in the fields, but they have survived! I have seen farmers work miracles on small plots of land, in their back yard, on the hillsides, on rocks, in gullies to feed their families and send their children to school. I have seen them nurturing their crops and animals treating like little babies, like members of their family, so that they can feed their families and send their children to school. What I don’t want to see them do however, is to tell their children to try and escape farming for a better life, but rather to encourage those with the interest and aptitude to education themselves in ways that will help them to contribute and benefit better from the sector.
Impact of Research and Development
Given the background that I have established, I would like to urge the individuals working or have interest in the sector, to intensify your research with a view to optimize the vast potentials to increase yield, provide storage, manage distribution, diversification, and manufacturing products for the local and foreign markets.
The concept of Agricultural Research for Development has gained popularity in the past five years and several international organizations have led the charge in embracing this innovation on behalf of farmers, who are the primary beneficiaries.
We have post secondary and tertiary level institutions in this nation that can give leadership and I am sure this is already happening but probably needs to be pursued in amore definitive and organized way.
The research done in agriculture in Jamaica with cattle has given us the Jamaica Red Poll and the Jamaica Hope. We have had research done with breadfruit, sorrel, ginger, yam, banana and many others, which is clear evidence that we have the educational and scientific skills, or can access them, to develop new and creative ways to make the sector attractive and generate more public and private support.
Agriculture is so fundamental to our survival, that whatever it takes to protect the sector from acts of man or natural phenomenon we should engage our scientists, scholars, and business interests to help us combat these situations.
Jamaica spends billions of dollars every year to educate our youngsters who are by no means short of ideas. These ideas can be transferred to the sector in innovative ways. I believe we can tap into this awesome group to help us take agriculture to a higher level. Let us face it, things and times have changed, and the practices of the past 50 years may not be relevant today. Mark you the principles of sowing, planting and reaping will remain. In fact as long as the earth remains seed time (which is planting time) and harvest (which is reaping time) will not cease. But we need to bridge the gap between the traditional and technological methods.
Let our young people write proposals and submit them to grant agencies and business interests, scientific councils, and others, to receive funding for their research and proposals. Then let us encourage the manufacturing and packaging of our products in ways that are appealing, appetizing, tasty and nutritious to satisfy the critical 21st century customers.
As we move forward, it is with the mandate that:
- We will adopt approaches that will make the agricultural sector attractive for big businesses to get seriously involved in and allow a wide range of individuals to participate in;
- We will look at options to protect these investors and minimize the risks that are attendant with the sector;
- We will have more of our young people remaining in rural Jamaica and accessing the basic technology and education without migrating to the cities, the demographic shift is not good prospect for agriculture.
Today, we celebrate our farmers and their contribution to Jamaica. The lesson we can take from them is that there are opportunities in every situation; we only need to identify them and harness their potential for wealth creation and bettering ourselves.
As stewards we all have a responsibility to use what we have been given wisely. Like the parable of the talents, it is up to us to determine how we use what we have been given. We can choose to bury it like “lazy” stewards or we can multiply what we have been given like “good” stewards.
I believe the Jamaican farmers have been good stewards of the talents and resources with which you have been entrusted. You represent what is right with Jamaica and I commend you.
I strongly believe that there is nothing that we eat that we cannot grow in Jamaica.
Thank you and may all your hard work bear good fruit.