Good Afternoon to you all!
Here we are once again at the Denbigh…to celebrate a number of significant milestones on our journey as a nation. This year’s Emancipendence season marks the 175th anniversary of full freedom, 51st anniversary of political Independence from slavery, and the 61st anniversary of Denbigh Agricultural Show. Together we are celebrating and giving God thanks for our history, heritage and traditions.
One of the things Lady and I look forward to is our annual visit to Denbigh. It is so good to see the enthusiastic participation of our farmers, exhibitors, performers, patrons; guests, and Denbigh becomes an oasis for all the challenges and heartaches and all the difficulties that we experience on a day to day basis. Today we celebrate the rich harvest of the land, the inventions and creativity of our people and the livestock on exhibition and the richness of our products. Let us cheer on our hard working farmers and their supportive associates. We also want to commend the JAS for a show that is well done.
As I toured the grounds, viewed the displays and interacted with the farmers and other stakeholders in the agricultural sector, I became even more convinced of the critical importance of this sector to our growth and our development. There is no question whatsoever that we must hasten to maximise our capacity to feed ourselves and also to successfully place our high quality of Jamaican products on the international marketplace.
On this, the 61st anniversary of the Denbigh Agricultural show, the event that is billed as “a business and knowledge focused exposition”. A number of important facts are being reiterated, including:
1. The ongoing campaign to “Grow What We Eat, Eat What We Grow”. On this score I must commend the President of the JAS Senator Norman Grant for the strong emphasis that he continues to place on this matter of eating what we grow. It is more than just wishful thinking on the part of the leadership of the Jamaica Agricultural Society; it is more than just empty words. Jamaicans who take the time to be a part of the Denbigh experience this year, will at the end of the day, be convinced that growing what we eat and eating what we grow is not a far-fetched idea. On the contrary, it is the path down which all of us must travel to reduce the nation’s external food bill. It is good to eat what we grow.
2. Another thing that strikes me about Denbigh is how we seem to be utilizing available and advancing technology, as well as a greater awareness and knowledge of agricultural sciences, it is not “business as usual”. We must move with the times and employ cutting edge technology to increase yield and production in the sector. If you do not keep up with the times, the times will leave you. You cannot do the same thing every year with the same technology and expect larger results. Now is the time to extend the borders of your imagination and implementation.
3. It is important that all stakeholders in the sector unite in making it attractive, appealing and worthwhile to our young people. The survival of our Agricultural sector is in the hands of our young farmers and I welcome the ‘Youth in Agriculture’ feature which will ultimately showcase young people who are not only involved, but who will also seek to encourage others, who can make a livelihood and enjoy what they do.
4. There is a demand for a reliable source of high quality Jamaican products especially in the local market. Denbigh this year will facilitate the coming together of buyers and sellers so that mutually beneficial negotiations can occur.
Ladies and gentlemen, agriculture is deeply engrained in the culture of this nation. There was a time when it was the number one product: sugar, banana, cocoa, citrus, among others. We know that several of our products are the best in both quality and taste. We do have some products which are still holding their own, as evidenced by our export of coffee, mangoes, ackee and others.
From coffee grown in the hills of St. Andrew to bananas in St. Mary, vegetables in St. Elizabeth, fruits in Manchester and yam in Trelawny, the campaign to grow what we eat, has encouraged Jamaicans to recover our appreciation for the variety of good food we have in this country. The fact that some international franchises have been adding Jamaican dishes to their menu is a demonstration that the message is being heard and believed. This tells us that our brand is a very strong one.
I use this platform to encourage all businesses and other large-scale purchasers of agricultural produces in Jamaica to support farmers by refusing to purchase products for which the vendors have no proof of ownership. Market vendors must also be part of this march, in order to stop praedial larceny. Supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, hospitals and other institutions must be vigilant in ensuring that they are not used by individuals who so heartlessly rob farmers of their livelihoods. It is so painful to bring your crops to harvest…or livestock ready for the market, and in one night all is lost!
I recall the story reported in one of our daily newspapers recently about a frustrated St. Catherine farmer who lamented: “For years I have been coming under pressure from thieves; dem nuh stop plague mi farm and mi get fed up!” So her response was to spray-paint the bananas on her farm with the colour red. She has not been harassed since. I congratulate her not just for her ingenuity, but for not throwing in the towel and quitting out of sheer frustration when she was driven to the limit – but she found a way!
The praedial thieves would be out of business if they did not have collaborators. Once vendors or management of businesses and institutions are found to be colluding with the praedial larcenists, which is wreaking havoc in the agricultural sector, they must give account for such actions. When some of these indivudlas are jailed, together with the original thieves of the livestock and produce, the message of zero tolerance for praedial larceny will be understood.
Most of you would have heard me speak before on this matter and are acquainted with how passionate I am in joining with our leaders in the fight against praedial larceny, a crime which must be punished to the fullest extent of the law. We simply cannot continue to frustrate the efforts of the farmers. We cannot grow our country when some only want to steal the harvest of what others have planted – in other words, to reap where they have not sown. It is everybody’s business to fight for truth and integrity in every aspect of our society.
We are now in Year 1 of the next decade. As I close, I want to encourage all Jamaicans to support our farmers, not merely for the benefit of our economy, but also as we strive to adopt healthier lifestyles.
I wish for our farmers abundant harvests and healthy profits. To the public agencies and private entities which support the development of our agricultural sector, I urge that you continue to be innovative, constantly seeking better ways to achieve our ambitious, but realistic, goals for the sector.
I also use this opportunity to wish for everyone a Happy 51st Anniversary of Jamaica’s Independence. May God bless you all and bless Jamaica, land we love!