This article originally appeared in print as the Letter of the Day in the Jamaica Gleaner, on January 15th, 2014. It has be reformatted and reedited for this online publication.
AGRICULTURE IS A BUSINESS
by Lipton Matthews
Government’s role is to create an economic environment that will promote free enterprise and dynamic growth; therefore the government must not be in the business of operating enterprises. We are, hopefully, neither fascist nor socialist.
Agriculture is a business, but instead of managing it like a viable enterprise, successive PNP and JLP administrations have continued to perpetuate the dependency syndrome by constantly pumping “aid” into agriculture, especially from EU sources through begging.
The results are clear and have been borne out for decades now, without question the state has been a failure in propping up this industry. The banana industry for example, has been the beneficiary of substantial assistance, not only is the sector still ailing, it lacks modernization.
Political leaders seem not to realize that pumping funds into any sector, without making it more competitive will not solve the problem (Mind you, I am sure that their cronies have benefited handsomely over the years). Some farmers become perpetually reliant on government, expecting a bailout whenever the sector their is distress in the sector. To compound the issue the state has wasted billions on RADA.
No politician wants to be seen as being “anti-poor”, but populist policies will make us all poorer in the longer term, so the government should treat agriculture like a business and refrain from subsidizing ailing aspects of the industry.
There should be a greater focus on improving agricultural productivity through innovation and private investment, hence funds that are set aside for the revitalization of failing sectors like sugar and banana by using the same archaic methods must be diverted to more productive activities.
Here’s a thought: Many young people may possess ideas to transform agriculture, but most of them lack capital to make their vision a reality. Jamaica continues to be a recipient of agricultural aid. The powers that be could use this money to create say, an Innovation Fund for Agriculture, to provide youngsters with an opportunity to commercialize their ideas and develop new technologies that will make Jamaica’s agriculture more competitive. In order to reduce losses, applicants must be selected via a merit based selection process, with the viability of their business plans being the major factor for selection; just as how banks choose to lend money for any borrower for any business start up. Technical support in the form of training and financial advice will also be offered.
Furthermore, arable lands that are owned by the state should be divested to either foreign or local investors with the capital and technology to revolutionize agriculture. I have stated before that Jamaican agriculture needs a revolution.
Foreign investments in agriculture should not be discouraged, as we clearly don’t have a clue what we are doing. Just look at the latest fiasco with the Government’s involvement in the Agro-parks Mess. Their agriculture record has been dismal and this recent controversy is another chapter in the our government’s agricultural failures. If local investors are not interested in this sector then we must seek other partners.
Of course the difficult and politically incorrect question to be asked is: “Is it prudent to support or recruit farmers who are illiterate, unable to do due diligence or that are not familiar with modern technology?”
Reforms are difficult to implement but if we are interested in becoming a nation of prosperous citizens they must be pursued.
Lipton Matthews is a first year law student and is unusual in being a Conservative Jamaican Adolescent who believes in the virtues of Capitalism. He can be reached at email@example.com.