Distinguished ladies and gentlemen:
There is something very special about today.
The launch of today's Agro-Tourism Farmers' Market here in Negril marks the formal declaration of our commitment to ensure increased consumption of local foodstuff and cuisine in the country's hotel and hospitality industry.
The Agro-Tourism Farmers' Market in intended to deepen and intensify
the linkages between the tourism and agriculture sectors in order to increase the use of local produce in the hotel and tourism industry.
Today, there is a heightened sense of collaboration and synergy
that has brought together the producers and suppliers of produce to the consumers and end-user in a unique place and time that captures the essence of brand Jamaica.
I am particularly pleased that we are launching this product today,
because as you may be aware, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, working with the JAS and other stakeholders, has designated November as Eat Jamaican Month. This is in furtherance of our on-going Eat Jamaica campaign and marks the "Grow what we eat... Eat what we grow" campaign launched by the JAS in 2003.
As we approach the 10th Anniversary of that national call to action,
it is therefore very gratifying to see another opportunity being provided to our farmers to expand local production and meet new market demands.
I understand we have some thirty five farmers who have
turned out today, the craft producers, agro processors and all the team members of the ministries, agencies and participating partners supporting this activity today. To you I extend our sincere gratitude for your contribution.
Minister McNeill, members of the tourism fraternity:
I am not sure that there are many places in the world where you would easily find a farmers' market on a beach.
What we are involved in today speaks, I believe,
to the creativity and innovation of our people. It speaks volumes also to the commitment of the Government of Jamaica to seriously apply strategies and a co-ordinated and deliberate approach to increasing local agricultural production.
At the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries
we recognize the importance of the market-driven approach to boosting local production.
In addition, we have also recognized the critical need to
ensure greater consumption of local produce in order to drive our import substitution strategy.
As you are aware, Agriculture is one of Jamaica's main economic activities.
Indeed Agriculture ranks third in terms of its annual contribution to our GDP and it is the source of employment and livelihood for 200,000 farmers and their families across the length and breadth of this country.
In the current economic scenario,
agriculture also has a critical role to play on Jamaica's agenda for growth and development.
As you are also aware, our country has a massive food import bill
of approximately one billion US dollars - a bill which is unsustainable and threatens the food security goals of the country.
It is for these reasons that the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is
implementing several strategies to reduce the food import bill, by growing more of what we consume and deliberately targeting the increased production of certain crops.
We are aware that we cannot grow everything that we do consume.
Part of our agricultural strategy, therefore, is that of increasing local production, reducing imports where possible, and expanding exports.
The critical factor, in all of this, is that of market expansion
- increasing production to serve expanded markets. These markets are available among local consumers, members of the Jamaica and Caribbean Diaspora residing in such countries as Britain, the United Sates and Canada, and indeed other nationals residing in those and other countries.
And right here, on our very doorsteps,
on our beaches and in our hotels, guesthouses and restaurants we have a very important market. Our world renowned tourism industry has provided and continues to provide us with a potentially large market.
We have a competitive advantage in terms of the numbers of visitors
who travel to our resorts annually. And the time is more than overdue to tap into this market that comes right here to us on the beaches, the South Coast, Negril, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, along the North Coast, and into Port Antonio.
And so I welcome today as a very important step in the right direction;
the right direction to supply to our visitor in our hotels, the unforgettable tastes and flavours of Jamaican cuisine, provided through the produce of our Jamaican farmers and the culinary expertise of our chefs.
A study commissioned by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2008
estimated that total purchases by hotels and other imported and local food was approximately J$16 Billion. Of that amount, only J$4.8 Billion or 30% represented local purchases. Our aim is to incrementally increase the local proportion.
And so, today, I wholeheartedly welcome this touism linkages project.
It is very encouraging to see that we brought together so many stakeholders and that this is the collaborative effort of the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment and its various agencies; The Ministry of Industry Investment and Commerce, represented here by the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC) the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association; the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA). And, or course, the craftsmen, musicians, and farmers.
You may be aware, ladies and gentlemen, that this particular market here in Negril
is one of those established earlier by the Authority as a glut reduction measure. This particular market here in Negril has proven to be sustainable and has attracted the attention and use not just of members of the general community, but also of the purchasers and chefs from the surrounding areas and so an idea was born and has found fertile ground.
This rebranded and new and improved Farmers' Market - the Agro-Tourism Farmers' Market
has been designed as a template to be replicated throughout other resort areas offering, as we see today, not just a marketplace for fresh produce but indeed becoming itself, part of the tourism and entertainment product of the resort areas.
Ladies and gentlemen, the benefits of eating local produce can never be over-emphasized.
There are good reasons for this:
1. Supports the Jamaican Economy by Saving Foreign Exchange used to import food.
2. Supports the Jamaican Economy by providing employment and Income for local farmers.
3. Local food is fresh and more flavourful because it is usually picked at the peak of maturity and does not have to be shipped and transported long distances to the consumer.
4. Local food has more nutrients. Local food has a shorter time between harvest and your table, and it is less likely that the nutrient value has decreased.
5. Local food also benefits the environment and promotes a safer food supply.
To the farmers, who are here today, I say you are ambassadors.
You need to make this work by ensuring a constant supply of quality produce.
To all of us who are a part of this new initiative, I say that failure is not any option.
We have started something that I believe is the start of something big that must grow from strength to strength.
I thank and congratulate all the stakeholders
who have committed time, effort and expertise to this launch today and we all look forward to seeing this collaborative effort grow from strength to strength as we build on the linkages to grow tourism, agriculture and the Jamaican economy.