Ladies and gentlemen, Their Excellencies, the Most Honourable Sir Patrick Allen and Lady Allen are unable to be here for the 64th staging of the Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show. The pleasure is mine as Deputy Governor-General, and also someone with very close ties to the agriculture sector to address you this afternoon.
This week is a special time in our national life. It is a time of celebration, reflection and renewal. Tomorrow, August first, Jamaicans will celebrate Emancipation Day; Independence Day celebrations will follow on Saturday, August sixth. Both are watershed moments that define the history and progress of Jamaica and deserve public acclamation and involvement.
Over the next few days Jamaicans will attend various cultural events to mark Emancipendence. Starting tonight, many will attend emancipation vigils and, in between sips of coco and chocolate tea, and bites of dukunoo and other local culinary delicacies produced right here in Jamaica by our farmers, they will sing folk songs and participate in activities to commemorate that first August Morning in 1838.
The Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show was in existence a decade before our country’s independence, it is therefore fitting that it is being held in the midst of our Emancipendence celebrations, to highlight and affirm the contribution of our farmers and the significance of the agriculture sector, whose history, incidentally, parallels the development of our nation.
The Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show is the premier event for farmers and other stakeholders in the agriculture and agro-processing sectors to showcase their work as well as new and innovative products and processes. Today I visited some of the parish pavilions and observed that despite the obstacles, our farming sector remains relatively stable. I congratulate the over 200,000 farmers across Jamaica who are expending their time, energy and effort to ensure that agriculture can still be counted as a major contributor to national development.
Our farmers and our farming communities are the backbone of Jamaica’s development. Through their efforts Agriculture:
• is a major earner of foreign exchange for Jamaica;
• absorbs approximately 20 percent of our labour force and, as new technology and modern farming methods are introduced, and
• is gaining acceptance among young people as a viable career option.
One other advantage of agriculture is its direct link to our ability to feed ourselves on a sustainable basis. In Jamaica we say that you can’t go hungry, and certainly if you come from rural farming communities you won’t be hungry for too long. There is a wide variety of fruits to choose from and, if you wish to ‘run a boat’, there are sufficient ground provisions to make a healthy and delightful meal. Of course, if you become thirsty or dehydrated, especially during these hot summer months, just reach for a jelly coconut and ‘feel alright.’
When we eat what we grow and grow what we eat we have the upper hand. We are supporting our farmers who in turn ensure that there is always food on our tables!
Sadly, ladies and gentlemen, the food security to which we are traditionally accustomed is under serious threat. Only this time, not directly from crop diseases and pests, but from a more severe, potentially devastating and costly phenomenon called climate change.
Climate change is a noticeable and sustained variation in weather conditions. The excessive heat that we have been experiencing; the long dry seasons and the disappearance of some of our beaches, such as what is taking place at Hellshire in Portmore, are the direct result of climate change.
In relation to agriculture specifically, climate change is a ticking time bomb.
Just to give you an example. The destructive forces of flood and bush fires which destroy hundreds of acres of crops and farm lands across Jamaica in the process, are pertinent reminders of our vulnerability to the intensity of natural disasters due to climate change. If left unchecked, climate change could reduce crop yields and the overall contribution of agriculture to national development. The farming sector could be wiped out if measures to safeguard the industry are not swiftly implemented and vigorously followed.
But today is not the occasion for shock and awe. The theme for this year’s Denbigh Show, “Grow What We Eat…Eat What We Grow: Through Climate Smart Agriculture” tells us that the JAS is seized of the imminent danger and is ready to have that important conversation with farmers and other stakeholders in order to avert the potential danger.
While there is no single solution to the threat and consequences of climate change, it is a reality that measures and strategies must be implemented to ensure that our farmers can continue to do what they have done for centuries and, that is, feed our nation.
As a nation we have to introduce measures to embrace climate smart agricultural practices so that:
• Rural communities can remain economically viable;
• Our tourism and hospitality sectors can have a sustained supply of fruits, vegetables and high quality produce;
• Our agro-processing sector can achieve its growth potential;
• Our exports can be increased and available on more supermarket shelves across the world;
• Consumers here and abroad must have the confidence that they are buying authentic goods made in Jamaica and above all, we must ensure that
• Our farmers can have hope that their income will be able to send their children to school and take care of their families
Minister Samuda, President Norman Grant, I will briefly address the pending exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, more popularly known as Brexit. It is established that this is a watershed moment in geo-politics. Here in Jamaica and across the Caribbean we do not have the luxury of allowing the rhetoric to overshadow the trade implications of Brexit for our small and vulnerable economies.
We must leverage our competitive and comparative advantages to protect existing market share and expand into new areas. Opportunities are opening up for mango exports to the UK later this year and I sincerely hope we will take full advantage of that and others as they arise.
Ladies and gentlemen, at the risk of being accused of bias let me say that I believe some of the best foods either come from Jamaica or are indigenous to Jamaica. You know it; I know it and visitors to our island know it. That is why they demand it when they go home.
Secondly, we have food establishments in this country that offer guests some of the best culinary delights. From Boston jerk in Portland to Little Ochi on the Westmoreland/St. Elizabeth border, and places in between like the yam sellers at Melrose Bypass, shrimp at Middle Quarters, fruit vendors in Bog Walk, Scotchies, Sweetwood jerk joint in Kingston to name a few. And all are Jamaican made.
I therefore encourage all of us to buy Jamaican. Eat what we grow and grow what we eat and keep Jamaican businesses afloat and Jamaican jobs secured. When you come to Denbigh with your family and your guests from overseas, buy more Jamaican made craft items as your investment in the country’s development. As our forebears did, let us begin right here, right now to emancipate ourselves from the longstanding fascination with imported goods.
In closing, I congratulate those who will receive awards for their involvement in agriculture. I applaud the individual who will be crowned Champion Farmer and especially the champion youth farmer as you seek to promote the involvement of youth in agriculture.
I commend the Jamaica Agriculture Society, its management, staff and members for the work done to make this year’s show a reality. Agriculture is going through some difficult times which require strategic thinking to make the sector attractive for investment. Denbigh 64 is a reminder of the advantages and dynamism that still exist in the sector. Let us embrace it and take agriculture to new heights of achievement.
I thank you.