Speaking at the launch of November as ‘Eat Jamaican’ Month, at the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), downtown Kingston, yesterday, Fulton said “Jamaica is an agricultural country and our richest heritage accrues from rural farming communities. All our best attitudes and values are to be found in traditional Jamaican country life, and central to our Jamaican culture is the food that we produce and the way in which we prepare it.”
He emphasised the importance of the ‘Eat Jamaican’ campaign, noting that it is a showcase of Jamaica’s vibrant food culture and in light of this, he said the JAS would be spearheading several initiatives to promote and enhance the Eat Jamaican thrust.
These he said included encouraging Jamaicans to integrate local produce in all diets; collaborating with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information to teach healthy lifestyles in schools, through the school-feeding programme; providing networking opportunities to link farmers with local restaurants, hotels, government institutions, hospitals and armed forces; helping in the research on the preparation of local foods and how to make these more convenient for consumption; and engaging chefs to use local foods in their menus and offerings.
Fulton has urged the Government and the private sector to provide greater support to local farmers by utilising more Jamaican produce. This, he said, was necessary to reduce the heavy dependence on "careless" imports, which has pushed the country's food import bill for January to July 2018 to US$501.6 million, a 5.4 per cent increase over the corresponding period for 2017.
The JAS president pointed to what he said were "the growing 40-ft container farms that seem (to be) the order of the day," and which benefit from a licensing regime that creates hardships for thousands of local farmers.
"This he said,"threatens the investment in poultry, pigs, dairy, Irish potatoes, and onions..." And "this is where Government must protect agriculture by saying no import licensing and pumping more money into local agriculture," Fulton declared.
The JAS president said his organization would be stepping up its advocacy on a number of critical issues adversely affecting agriculture, including the establishment of the Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA), an umbrella organisation designed to replace a number of commodity boards.
"We think the (JACRA) Act should be repealed, not even amended, since it is punitive to our farmers and a disincentive to production.
"We'll have a major fight with Government, I know, in terms of the lands owned by the Coffee Board, Cocoa Board, and all the other cooperatives because they cannot be sold and the money goes (to any other source) other than into the hands of poor farmers," he warned.
Meanwhile, Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Audley Shaw, in a message read by Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Andrene Collings, encouraged Jamaicans to give more support to local food producers, as this created opportunities for the diversification of farms, and places greater focus on value-added products, micro and small business development and job creation.
She noted that data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) indicated that Jamaican farmers continued to be at a disadvantage when compared to their CARICOM partmers.
She said: "In relation to CARICOM, revenue from total food exports for January to July 2018 decreased by five per cent to US$19.2 million. Food imports from CARICOM, on the other hand, were valued at US$78.1 million, an increase of 1.9 per cent over the similar period, last year.
"These statistics are clearly an indication that we have a challenge, which we must use as an opportunity to grow Jamaican agriculture. Can you imagine what the situation would be if we 'Eat More Jamaican', import less, and export more Jamaican products?"
“By eating Jamaican, we support the economy because the money spent with our farmers and producers stays with us and can be reinvested with businesses and services in our communities,” the PS said.
She argued that when Jamaicans buy more local products, eat more Jamaican foods and export more value-added products, this will have a positive impact on the economy.
“Eating Jamaican means supporting local communities, businesses, manufacturing and, ultimately, the sustainable growth of our economy,” the Minister said.
a Thanksgiving Service is to be held at the Commodore New Testament Church of God, Linstead, St. Catherine, on November 11 at 10:00 a.m., and an Eat Jamaican exposition on the lawns of Devon House on November 25, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., As part of the Month's activities.
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