We­hby: COVID-19 high­lights the need for Ja to be self-suf­fi­cient

Jamaica Gleaner - - LIVING -

IN AD­DI­TION to ex­press­ing his grat­i­tude to mem­bers of the Ja­maican di­as­pora for their con­sis­tent sup­port dur­ing the COVID19 pan­demic, GraceKenne­dy Group CEO, Sen­a­tor Don We­hby, has is­sued a pas­sion­ate plea and has made sev­eral sug­ges­tions as to how the di­as­pora can en­gage with Ja­maica to help the coun­try emerge stronger and more re­silient post COVID.

We­hby was speak­ing in his key­note ad­dress to the Global Ja­maica Di­as­pora Coun­cil’s vir­tual in­ter­na­tional Round Ta­ble on Mon­day, held un­der the theme ‘Reimag­in­ing Di­as­pora En­gage­ment Dur­ing and Be­yond COVID-19: Chal­lenges and Op­por­tu­ni­ties’.

Posit­ing that it of­ten takes a cri­sis for one to reimag­ine the fu­ture, both pro­fes­sion­ally and per­son­ally, We­hby spoke to the im­pact of the COVID-19 virus on Ja­maica, high­light­ing the fall­out in the ar­eas of food se­cu­rity, tourism and ed­u­ca­tion. We­hby’s pre­sen­ta­tion fo­cused on three key ar­eas – agri­cul­ture, ed­u­ca­tion and tourism – where op­por­tu­ni­ties ex­ist to strengthen di­as­pora en­gage­ment to cre­ate a bet­ter, post-COVID Ja­maica.

CUT IM­PORT BILL

“As the CEO of GraceKenne­dy, the panic buy­ing in Ja­maica led me to won­der what would hap­pen if the bor­ders were closed for a long time. We have a food im­port bill of US$1 bil­lion. COVID-19 has high­lighted the need for Ja­maica to be self-suf­fi­cient in terms of our food,”We­hby said. The CEO then re­it­er­ated his call to cut Ja­maica’s food im­port bill by 50 per cent by 2030, not­ing the pos­i­tive im­pact that that re­duc­tion would have on Ja­maica, and, by ex­ten­sion, its bal­ance of pay­ments and rate of ex­change.

He con­tin­ued: “I be­lieve very sin­cerely that if we are to hit that tar­get, our di­as­pora, our brothers and sis­ters would play a huge role.” He en­cour­aged mem­bers of the di­as­pora to in­vest more in the agri­cul­ture and agro-pro­cess­ing sec­tors in Ja­maica, and to li­aise with JAM­PRO for in­for­ma­tion on the dif­fer­ent ways to do so, rang­ing from the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of land to the for­ma­tion of link­age net­works.

We­hby also asked the di­as­pora to as­sist with clos­ing the gaps in ed­u­ca­tion high­lighted by COVID-19. “I be­lieve that ed­u­ca­tion is a right, not a priv­i­lege. COVID has ex­posed some se­ri­ous in­equities in ac­cess to tools and con­nec­tiv­ity in Ja­maica. GK has started a pro­gramme to pro­vide tablets and lap­tops to stu­dents and teach­ers, and I en­cour­age the di­as­pora to do the same,” he said. We­hby also men­tioned youth men­tor­ship as a vi­able way to reimag­ine di­as­pora en­gage­ment post COVID, not­ing, “What gets mea­sured, gets done; so I am throw­ing out a chal­lenge to mem­bers of the di­as­pora to part­ner with men­tor­ship pro­grammes tar­get­ing 100 at-risk youth for next year. Some­times it’s not about our dol­lars, it’s about our time.”

Mean­while, in ad­dress­ing tourism, We­hby en­cour­aged di­as­pora mem­bers to come home as tourists and pump some much-needed for­eign ex­change into the Ja­maican econ­omy.

WE­HBY

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