Daily Observer (Jamaica) - - THE DIGITAL LIFE -

FOR decades we have failed to at­tract a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of bright young minds to agri­cul­ture. Many chil­dren who grew up help­ing with family plots and tend­ing to an­i­mals have long since moved away from the farm to seek jobs — many en­cour­aged by their par­ents. A few stayed the course and reaped the re­ward from labour­ing in the fields, rear­ing large live­stock herds and even­tu­ally tak­ing over full man­age­ment.

Yet oth­ers felt that farm­ing was me­nial work and smacked of slav­ery. This is a mind­set which even now threat­ens our sur­vival as it has had a no­tice­able psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact on our so­ci­eties. We are now faced with the for­mi­da­ble job of trans­form­ing the way many of us think about the sec­tor.

Suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments put sev­eral in­sti­tu­tions in place to drive agri­cul­ture, and some pri­vate sec­tor in­ter­ests in­vested — with mixed re­sults. But, we failed to at­tract the bright­est and best young peo­ple to the sec­tor so our food se­cu­rity is threat­ened by the fail­ure not only to grow what we eat, but to ex­port on a suf­fi­cient scale to at­tract crit­i­cal for­eign ex­change. Be­sides, our con­sump­tion pat­terns are more alien than in­dige­nous. Much of the food we boast about is not con­sis­tently served to those who flock to ho­tels and restau­rants.

How­ever, we can ad­dress these de­fi­cien­cies by look­ing at fresh ap­proaches to farm­ing and farm man­age­ment, con­sump­tion and mar­ket­ing of food prod­ucts. We posit that tech­nol­ogy could make a tremen­dous con­tri­bu­tion to the trans­for­ma­tion of the sec­tor and at­tract our bright­est and best. The Caribbean has a long his­tory of train­ing in agri­cul­ture, go­ing back to the Im­pe­rial Col­lege of Trop­i­cal Agri­cul­ture at The Univer­sity of the West Indies cam­pus in Trinidad. It was the seat of learn­ing not only for Caribbean stu­dents but at­tracted many from be­yond the re­gion. To­day, we boast high sci­en­tific ef­forts at our re­gional uni­ver­si­ties and should be en­cour­ag­ing more stu­dents to pur­sue ar­eas of study which would con­trib­ute to build­ing our agri­cul­tural sec­tors. There is con­sid­er­able value in pur­su­ing the many ar­eas which of­fer the pos­si­bil­ity of a boun­ti­ful har­vest.

Re­cently, gov­ern­ments in­tro­duced the port­fo­lio of the blue econ­omy, a fancy term for reap­ing the fruits of the sea.

It’s about time. Long­line fish­ing trawlers from as far away as Tai­wan pa­trol our wa­ters for weeks, gath­er­ing their catch.

It is smart tech­nol­ogy which al­lows them to ven­ture far out from home port, con­fi­dent of their for­ays into dis­tant wa­ters.

Our fish­er­men, too of­ten lost at sea, de­serve to be equipped to reap more of the abun­dant re­sources in our wa­ters. There should be a de­ter­mined ef­fort to mount ma­jor fish­ing projects, us­ing the lat­est tech­nol­ogy, to lo­cate fish stocks and ex­er­cise pro­tec­tion of our marine life. On­shore, we should be ex­pand­ing op­er­a­tions in hy­dro­pon­ics and fish farm­ing, two as­pects of agri­cul­ture which have been more ex­per­i­men­tal than large-scale. In­vest­ment in new tech­nolo­gies can also lead to more sig­nif­i­cant value-added prod­ucts us­ing the raw ma­te­ri­als which we pro­duce.

Con­sump­tion is also a key plank in this drive and will only suc­ceed if we find ways in which to en­cour­age the younger gen­er­a­tion to have re­spect for what we pro­duce. Over­all, we must give the agri­cul­tural sec­tor the re­spect it de­serves so that it can be built up as a valu­able pur­suit wor­thy of ed­u­ca­tional in­vest­ment.

A cru­cial re­view of pro­duc­tion tech­niques should lead to re­tool­ing such that we are ahead of the curve in the de­ploy­ment of hard­ware and soft­ware to trans­form the work­flows in the field and on the pro­duc­tion lines.

These moves re­quire fresh, bright minds ab­sorbed in the­ory and able to use the most mod­ern tools to make strate­gic de­ci­sions about build­ing out the agri­cul­tural sec­tor as a lead el­e­ment of our gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, earn­ing valu­able for­eign ex­change for our fur­ther de­vel­op­ment ob­jec­tives. The com­bi­na­tion of new-found knowl­edge, com­bined with that of our ex­pe­ri­enced hands, should go a long way in trans­form­ing a sec­tor which has promised so much for so long, and whose time aided an abun­dance of tech­nol­ogy tools.

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