One of the salutary features of the work of JAMPRO, Jamaica’s trade and investment arm, one of whose tasks is to globally check out and report on such external market and investment opportunities as might benefit Jamaican businesses is that its work has left a discernable mark on the country’s export sector.
For reasons the extent of which cannot be accommodated in this editorial no such entity exists here. Making connections between local producers in the agricultural sector and the export market has always been largely a function of the individual farmer/exporter, such efforts as have been initiated by government having proved to be lacking in scope, organization, persistence and investment and ultimately failing to provide, on a sustained and reliable basis, the sort of game-changing information that can allow for our agricultural and agro-processing sectors to take that leap forward.
Perhaps the most surprising feature of this conundrum is that Guyana is considered a far more formidable food producer than Jamaica and far more in need of the kind of market intelligence that can benefit our export pursuits.
The character of global trade in food, including agricultural and agro-processed commodities has shifted in several significant ways over the years. One such change has come in the area of food safety and here too Guyana has been far too slow in responding. The seeming official awareness, for example, of the United States’ Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and its implications for market access for food (including farm products) products from Guyana, a matter on which this newspaper has reported ad nauseam, has simply not been matched with a comparable corresponding response. Here, as in other areas that have to do with our international markets, we have been weighed and found wanting.
This brings us to a story published in today’s issue of the Stabroek Business that has to do with a disclosure by JAMPRO regarding what appears to be the evolving repositioning of tropical fruit on the international market in a manner that might well portend a major breakthrough for Jamaica’s global tropical fruit market. Contextually, here is an opportunity for our own Ministry of Agriculture which, frankly, does little if anything, as far as we know in terms of providing regular, relevant and reliable global market demand information on tropical fruit, to pay some measure of attention to JAMPRO’s recent disclosure on the global fruit market.
In a nutshell, the disclosure, published in the Jamaica Gleaner earlier this week names four fruit – avocado, papaya, pumpkin and mango – (all of which are produced here in considerable volumes) that have now moved from niche market to big league stage on the global demand chart. JAMPRO particularly singles out avocado as having entered the “super fruit” league which means, as far as we are aware, that its considerable global demand is linked to its health and nutrition-related status.
The question that arises here (and we may as well deal with it with a minimum of prevarication) is whether the authorities here, specifically the Ministry of Agriculture, is aware of these developments in the tropical fruit industry and whether or not there is any initiative underway to utilize that information to try to position the local agricultural sector to take advantage of a market which, up until now, has not served us as well as it might have done. Here, one frankly does not care much for responses that might interpret what we have to say as giving offence in one quarter or another. The reality of the situation, over many years, is that the Ministry of Agriculture and its related agencies have been sluggish, to say the least in terms of providing the sort of market intelligence that might make a difference to our export fortunes and it is high time that we change course.
We believe, for example, that reliable global market intelligence can help to chart the support course of entities like the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) in terms of the technical advice and support that it gives to farmers. This, at a time when the signal from government is that in the face of what is an understandable preoccupation with the impending start of oil recovery Guyana would want to strengthen its agricultural credentials not only for the sake of our own food safety but also in order to strengthen our credentials as a food exporter.
But that is not all. JAMPRO’s revelation on emerging market opportunities for tropical fruit is attended by a caveat that has to do with the need to satisfy global food safety standards, the bar for which has been raised significantly in recent years. Here again, government has been guilty of demonstrating a frustrating sluggishness in responding to the dictates of changing global food safety standards. Conditions and facilities at the Government Analyst Food and Drugs Department (GAFDD) bear this out. Concerns arising out of the current situation relating to our coconut water exports to Trinidad and Tobago point to deficiencies in our own testing standards. All of this after it took government a proverbial ‘year and a day’ to embark on some kind of meaningful investment in the rehabilitation of the GAFDD.
So that the question that arises has to do with whether the state agencies responsible for agricultural production, exports and meeting external food safety standards can collectively respond to the JAMPRO revelations in a manner that can eventually serve as a game changer for our export earnings from the fruit that we produce repetitively but much of which we end up dumping simply because there exists no predetermined plans as to just what to do with it. The fact of the matter is that while there has been talk, over several decades of using our missions abroad as entities that might help with export promotion there is really no substitute, in our circumstances, for a dedicated agency – like Jamaica’s JAMPRO – that can undertake the kinds of incisive research (and perhaps more importantly compiling and channeling of information) that allows for information to which our farmers and our food safety institutions can respond. It is high time that we begin to accustom ourselves to behaving in this way.