Wehby reiterates call for measures to reduce food import bill in Jamaica

Government Senator Don Wehby, has reiterated his call for the Government to implement measures that will ensure that the country’s US$1 billion (J$155 billion) annual food import bill is cut in half by 2030.

“We need to create the policies, the environment and incentives to achieve this objective. This will require investing heavily in agriculture and agro-processing by ensuring our farmers have good crop insurance and technical training to mass produce certain crops. Our farmers need the support to access technical training and to think big and think new technology, and processes, and they need access to credit to increase their productivity through mass production of certain crops,” Wehby said.

He was speaking in the Senate on Friday, during his contribution to the debate on the Agricultural Loan Societies and Approved Organisations Regulations, 2021.

Wehby, the Chief Executive Officer of food conglomerate, GraceKennedy, expressed that the regulations that will guide the principal Act “will provide that support”.

He noted that Jamaica’s food import bill was US$1 billion in 2019 and $900 million in 2020 with 44 per cent of those imports coming from the United States in 2019 and 32 per cent from the same country in 2020.

“So, over the two-year period not much has changed,” he lamented.

“Although the legislation has taken a long time in coming it is more important than ever for us to have it in place to support the operation of the primary legislation. Taken together the Act and the regulations will be one of several initiatives to enhance the country’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and support the growth of the agriculture sector,” he said.

Wehby shared that he strongly believes in the ability of the sector to spur economic growth and enhance food security while contributing to poverty reduction.

“To achieve these goals our agriculture sector must be robust and modernised to first world standards. This requires increasing production in agriculture through raising productivity levels through comprehensive training of our farmers, prioritising our small farmers so they can become big one day, and creating sustainable value-added food products,” said Wehby.

The government senator said priority must be placed on increasing exports of produce, including mangoes, breadfruit, processed ackees and sweet potatoes.

“I am seeing where there is a demand for processed green jackfruit. The Jamaica brand is very strong, and we must leverage it so the whole country can benefit,” he told the Senate.

Additionally, Wehby said steps must be taken to modernise the Agricultural Marketing Corporation to become a primary distribution and marketing agent for all farmers including for export. He also said private-public partnerships are crucial to the development of the sector.

coupled with other initiatives by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, will change the face of agriculture in Jamaica and enable us to reduce our US$1 billion food import bill and Caricom’s (Caribbean Community) US$5 billion bill.

“Jamaica can become a powerhouse in agricultural food exports,” Wehby added.

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