Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Pearnel Charles Jr (left) answers questions from reporters during Monday’s Jamaica Observer exchange at the newspaper’s corporate headquarters on Beechwood Avenue in the corporate area, while as the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Chief Technical Director Orville Powell is watching on. (Photo Naphtali Junior)
With With the cost of imported farm inputs contributing to concerns over Jamaica’s food security, safety and sustainability, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Pearnel Charles Jr revealed plans are in place to set up banks seed and develop local fertilizer and animal feed assets.
Charles Jr, who was addressing editors and reporters at the Jamaica Observers Monday Exchange at the newspaper’s Beechwood Avenue headquarters this week, made the revelation while outlining his department’s “Eat Smart, Grow Smart” strategy, which aims to mitigate the impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Russian-Ukrainian war and climate change on agricultural value and supply chains.
“To grow smart, you have to focus on research and development. So we’re talking about soil fertility, we’re looking at balancing the pH of water, we’re looking at exploring clean seeds, we’re looking for a seed bank – not just seed storage [but] seed bank, which is a whole different discussion,” he pointed out.
“We’re talking about an area where you have consistent modern mechanized vaults to protect your seed, and we’re looking to be that hub for the Caribbean,” the minister continued.
Charles Jr said the ministry is also exploring germplasm as part of its drive to integrate the science and technology needed for agriculture, “so we’re not just talking about climate-smart agriculture, innovation and technology, but that we are able to represent it as a country and establish it in our results.”
Given Jamaica’s vulnerability to climate change as a small island developing state, he said there was a need to build a resilient sector by introducing new methods and reintroducing traditional ones.
The agriculture minister had shared similar plans in his contribution to the 2022 sectoral presentations to Parliament in May. At the time, he pointed out that the development of the country’s germplasm and seed banks provides short, medium and long-term solutions and can improve Jamaica’s local production capacity.
The development of a seed bank also aligns with the strategies outlined in Jamaica’s Agriculture Sector Plan for Vision 2030.
Charles Jr, however, noted that the move comes against the backdrop that one of the highest costs of agricultural production is agricultural inputs.
Recently, during a Jamaica Observer Business ForumJamaica Chamber of Commerce President Ian Neita questioned the country’s ability to achieve food security when inputs including seeds, fertilizers and animal feed are imported.
Commenting on the cost of inputs, Charles noted, “I want you to understand how important it is [that] the highest costs in terms of final cost transfer to consumers are feed and fertilizer. So when food and fertilizer increase, you feel it the most.
“That’s why we are very deliberately focusing our research efforts on defining ways to add more local actives to our fertilizers and feeds,” the Minister added.
An example of increasing the country’s local feed asset is having the right grass to feed ruminants, which can increase the quality and quantity of animal by-products.
The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Chief Technical Director Orville Powell noted that for a long time animal protein was one of the most expensive in the region due to the cost of feed. To rectify this, he said the ministry, through Bodles Agricultural Research Station, has identified and is now deploying new species of grasses for ruminants.
“So if you can produce this material more cheaply, that means your end product for consumers will be lower. So we’re using Mombasa grass as a way to reduce the cost of protein for our consumers going through ruminants.” , he explained, adding that by next weekend, the ministry will have completed the cultivation of 75 acres of Mombasa and Pangola grass.
Along the same lines, Minister Charles pointed out that research at Earth University in San Jose, Costa Rica has reaffirmed the approach taken by the Bodles Agricultural Research Station to determine the best grass and how to grow it in Jamaica.
“It’s about improving efficiency. The simple difference in grass texture and digestibility can make a huge difference in the growth of your goat or cow. So all of those things are the intricate details that surround you.
A seed bank.
Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Pearl Charles Jr announced plans to develop local fertilizer assets.