Addressing a World Food Day ceremony at the Maud McLeod High School in Darliston, Westmoreland, last Friday, Kellier said there is clear evidence that in spite of the challenges which continue to confront the agricultural sector, strategies for poverty alleviation in rural communities must be aligned to agriculture.
He noted that the most recent edition of the Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions shows that there has been a reduction in poverty in the majority of rural areas due to agriculture.
“As we are aware, the agricultural sector continues to be the mainstay of the economies of our rural communities. It is the bedrock of these communities and it is the industry also which we must strategically utilise to increase wealth creation and improve the social wellbeing of our residents,” the minister added.
Kellier said that while agriculture’s 6.5 per cent contribution to Jamaica’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) might seem paltry at first glance, a closer examination will show that the sector’s linkage to areas such as manufacturing and tourism makes it one of the main engines of growth to propel the economy forward.
“Agriculture continues to make a significant contribution to other sectors of the economy, even while supporting rural life in every aspect. It is not farfetched to think that agriculture can be the game changer for breaking the cycle of rural poverty. Our own experience right here in Jamaica has demonstrated that possibility,” he pointed out.
The minister argued that breaking the cycle of rural poverty will depend seriously on the Government’s ability to fundamentally restructure the sector, in order to achieve sustainability.
“Through that deliberate strategy, we selected a number of key areas. We have been able to attain self-sufficiency in pork, poultry, table Irish potato and we now have embarked on increased production of onion, where we are targeting a 50 per cent increase in the production by 2017,” he added.
The minister explained that the agro-park initiative is a central part of the Government’s overarching strategy for restructuring the sector, and so far, “we have established nine of these parks and we are on track with our business plan aimed at creating another 21 parks over the next three years.”
Kellier said the parks will help to consolidate the country’s food security and import substitution initiatives which, judging from last year’s 4.5 per cent reduction of the food import bill, is already bearing fruit. “They are also intended to increase employment in the sector,” he noted.