Remarks by The Most Honourable Andrew Holness at the Official Launch of Essex Valley Agriculture Development Project
Thank you very much Dermon and may I offer you congratulations on your new appointment as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries. Since I made it the recommendation for the appointment I know that you will do a good job.
I want to thank Mrs Myers for her fervent prayers for us. I gather she is a member of the board of Lititz Primary School and while I’m at it may I congratulate the students for their dramatic performance in every sense.
I too have some association with agriculture and my father also insisted that I do some duties in the pig pen so in acknowledging the Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, I want him to know that he’s not alone in that upbringing. It is the most humbling experience and Warren got it right that it was a promotion to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries because I know that the man-of-farm will do an excellent job and I tell you why I feel that way. He has the natural ability to understand the people. He has the natural ability to motivate and inspire but more than that he has a business sense.
In his early days he was involved in investment promotion and his experience in the Ministry of Finance is critical to bringing to the portfolio the enterprise mission that Agriculture needs, the business sense and direction that Agriculture needs because you see when the president of the CDB Warren- I’m just discovering that his first name is William, I’ve been calling him Warren all this time; when he said that the only person that is appropriately dressed for agriculture would be himself. Well, he pretended to say himself but he was alluding to Dermon but the truth is Agriculture also needs men in jacket and tie which we should never limit agriculture because the moment that we limit agriculture to being merely a manual and domestic endeavour, then we limit ourselves and the potential for growth.
Make no mistake, agriculture is big business and it should run the gamut. We must dispense with the historical and social issues that have limited our perception and our understanding of agriculture so as I stand here today, I am not afraid to tell you that I want to go into farming. Yes, that I believe it is one of the most rewarding and noble endeavours and we want more Jamaicans from all walks of life whether you wear bush-jacket or fancy shirt or jacket and tie; all of us must put our hands in the soil and turn it and create some value.
I know that Minister Shaw will be able to lead that process and it fulfils the objective that we started out with when we merged Agriculture with Investment and Commerce because that was always the intention. For Agriculture to grow you must look towards what is called the vertical integration. You must create not just the production opportunities of the crops, but you have to create the processing facilities and infrastructure. On top of that you have to create the markets for the distribution and then you have to parallel with that create the financial systems to support it. High Commissioner Ahmad mentioned the titling which is so necessary to support the finances and you have to create the financial windows for the farmers. All of that is critical which brings me to this project and I gather that someone was referred to as the ‘money bag’, that is the Jamaican term for the man who holds the purse strings Mr Kossoff.
Let me first of all say thanks to the British Government for their consideration and funding this project through the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF). I was about to say UKIP but then that’s something different. We are very grateful for the support and this is the kind of support that makes sense, this is the kind of support that is going to move the needle and this is the kind of support that shows that it is not just the historic ties that have bound us together through our historical past now in the Commonwealth but that there is meaningful assistance and the best way to express that is through the area of agriculture that touches so broad a spectrum of people and has such a great potential for our economic growth and indeed to achieve to our true economic independence.
Again, High Commissioner Mr Kossoff and the team, the Government of Jamaica on behalf of the people of Jamaica are truly grateful and we want to say thanks to you. £55,000,000 is not anything to sneeze at. It is significant but of course, that is not the full extent of the partnership that we have with our British friends. We have partnerships in security and to that end very shortly we will be working on the commission on violence in Jamaica. This area in which we are gathered is probably one of the most peaceful areas in Jamaica and by and large, this is because the people here are not idle, the people here even if the formal economy does not provide you with a job you turn the soil and make your livelihood. Your independence is in your hands I agriculture except for the issue of thieving and for those of you who didn’t recognize what High Commissioner Ahmad was saying, those who steal, the thieves, the praedial larcenists except for those that continue to prey on your hard work. The people in this area generally are hardworking people and have what I would call a culture of work, in particular, an agricultural culture.
The chairman of the NWC is here. He’s also the chairman of the National Irrigation Commission and I see the president of the NWC, Mr Mark Barnett is also here. Whilst this is about agriculture largely more importantly this is about water. Water is a critical part of the economic growth equation; absolutely critical. The tagline of the NWC ‘Water is life’ is so true, so apt but it is also true that water means growth and especially the case for agriculture that is why in 2009 we conceived the strategy of truly realizing the growth potential in the bread basket parish of Jamaica with several water schemes. You’re seeing many of them come to fruition now, for example, the Hounslow scheme, close by that will be completed in another six weeks so another set of farmers and domestic households in this area will have access to potable water and we’ve done several water schemes within this area. This particular scheme as I said was conceived in 2009 but therein lies my own distress. It is now ten years and it has not been said and I appreciate that it hasn’t been said but as prime minister I do have some privilege because there are some things that while it may be impolite to say it I believe that sometimes we need to look in the mirror at ourselves because this project took a very long time to be implemented; the High Commission and myself had several discussions about the slow pace of implementation. This is a gift, a grant, it’s not costing us anything but, yet it took us an exceptionally long time to get it done. Now, just to be clear this grant only became available about two years ago, but the general point is made. We conceived in 2009, we couldn’t find the funding to do it, governments change, priorities may have changed then governments changed again, the opportunity came in 2015 there about and from 2015 from the date of the announcement to the date of the approval of the funding to now we’re just completing the process.
Friends, parishioners- sorry High Commissioner, it’s really parishioners but we have to do better in implementation; that is where the real deficit is. We’re great conceptualizers, no doubt about it, we have the biggest brains but we need to get some muscles and strong hands to move quickly to get things done but today is a day of celebration, so we note the point and we will do better because there are many more projects there that are just waiting for the completion of the implementation process. The government recognizes that the speed of doing business is really one of the great limits on the pace of growth but there are times when the government acts quickly. Some of you here may have heard the great distress of the people of Kingston and St Andrew who suffered over the holiday period and then again recently the breakage of two water mains that takes most of the water into the corporate area. One main was thirty-five feet underground, an eighteen-inch main which was the main conduit for water and then there is another main which broke just a few days ago, a Thirty-three-inch main and the entire Kingston was thrown into problems.
I’m pleased to report if it has not already been reported that the Thirty-three-inch main has been repaired. I’ve been given that information by the president; of course, the swift working of the NWC to get that done. We have accessed the issues, it will take us up to March to repair the other main which is as I said thirty-five feet underground. Repair is not the correct term, we will have to abandon that and run new lines and that will take three months but when that is done Kingston will be adequately served and sustainably served because an important part of anything that the government of Jamaica is doing now is resilience so I’m happy to see that in this project as well there are serious consideration for resilience meaning the ability of the government, the state or whatever entity it is to recover quickly and thrive afterwards in the event of a crisis.
The water mains that we’re putting in will be appropriately designed, they will be appropriately specced and properly installed both to carry current capacity and future demands and to withstand catastrophes and eventualities that could impact the productivity and economy of the country. So that is being done and I wish to give the assurance to the people who have been inconvenienced.
In the interim the NWC is trucking water and I’m not here saying that they can truck water to every household but they are making provisions particularly for schools and other critical services and we are now completing our negotiations to purchase seven hundred gallons per day from a private source to supplement that which we would have lost by not having the eighteen inch main operational so we’re making effort and I want to thank the people who have been very understanding who have been inconvenienced. We’re working very hard to rectify that situation but now to water here.
I’m told that only 7% of Jamaica’s irrigable land is actually irrigated; only 7%. This project will probably move the needle a little bit but certainly, it wouldn’t pass more than a percent so permanent secretary you could update the statistics after this to tell me where we are with irrigation as a result of the Essex Valley Project. That says a lot because for Jamaica to grow agriculture must grow.
Minister Shaw remind me, what percentage of the Jamaican economy is agriculture? It’s about eight or nine percent primary agriculture so any change downturn in agriculture immediately has an impact on the national figures so what we want to do is to grow agriculture and for us to grow agriculture we have to invest in water and that is why Minister Shaw even when he was Minister of Finance saw the vision that once this fund became available he said “dedicate all of it to water, to irrigation, to agriculture” and we will continue to do so.
Just recently the president of the CDB, Warren informed me that there are funds at that bank, very low cost funds which are available for use and even without having this conversation about what Minster Shaw did I said to him “we will use it for water” and that will be used to support the National Irrigation as well as rural water to ensure that people right across Jamaica involved in agriculture and for domestic use have water because water is critical for growth.
I want to close on dealing with the issue of economic growth; just to make a final point. Last quarter the out-turn was 1.8%, the quarter before that was 2.2% and for the past three years, we have not gotten over the 2% hump. We can’t really say that we’re growing until we’ve crossed 2%. 2% is really from our perspective the threshold for take-off. We’ve been doing everything correctly. We have gotten high scores by all markers on the macro-fiscal issues on how we’ve handled debt, how we’ve handled foreign exchange, how we’ve handled our public expenditure, how we’ve handled our taxation; all good marks on the macroeconomic level. Where we still have challenges would be at the micro-economic level, that is the level of the firm, the level; of the farmer, the level of the technocrats and bureaucrats in the regulatory environment, in the ministries, agencies and departments. How fast are we working, how innovative are we, how responsive is the bureaucracy and that is where the challenge is. A large part of that requires a culture shift and that is why we’ve put in place the Economic Growth Council that Senator Hill is the Executive Director and Mr Michael Lee Chin is the Chairman, Convener, and Chief Motivator. It is about bringing together all the players in the economy so that they have an understanding that their micro-action, their small action, their individual action has an impact on the economic growth out-turn.
As dramatically demonstrated, at the start of the skit a farmer has to make a decision, will I plant Irish potato or not. That decision is affected by another micro-economic decision, how fast can we get water to that farm. that is being played out every single day. Every time a project that could increase capacity is delayed a farmer makes decision, not to plant., a businessman makes decisions not to invest or to cut back, investors say you know what I’m not coming to Jamaica, I will go elsewhere and then the country just does not get to fulfil its true potential so I’m happy with the help of the British government, the CDB and all our partners that we’ve got this done but the celebration about is tempered because we didn’t get it quickly enough.
There are still many more decisions to be made when this is completed and I’m going to be paying particular attention to ensure that the value of this investment is realized, both for the people of Jamaica but also for the taxpayers of the United Kingdom who have given us the resources. Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you.