JM | Jul 21, 2021

Don Wehby | A robust Jamaican agriculture sector requires increasing production

/ Our Today

Don Wehby, GraceKennedy Group CEO and Government Senator.

Senator Don Wehby, who is the Group CEO of GraceKennedy, was speaking on Tuesday (20) at the media launch of GK Insurance’s Weather Protect, an initiative to support Jamaica’s agricultural sector.

Below is his full address.

“I am pleased to be joining you virtually today for the Launch of GK General Insurance’s new GK Weather Protect Policy. 

GK Weather Protect is the latest in a series of initiatives we have underway across the GraceKennedy Group to support Jamaica’s agricultural sector. 

GraceKennedy is committed to Jamaica and we believe in investing in agriculture and supporting our farmers to ensure their financial success. 

I firmly believe that a robust agriculture sector is key to Jamaica’s self-reliance and economic independence. 

Building a robust agriculture sector requires increasing production in agriculture through raising productivity levels and creating sustainable value-added food products. 

I have challenged my team at GraceKennedy and the wider private sector to set ourselves a target to cut our import bill in half by 2030. We need to create the policies the environment and incentives to achieve this objective. This will require investing heavily in agriculture and agro-processing by ensuring our farmers have good crop insurance and technical training to mass-produce certain crops. 

Insurance for farmers 

Jamaica is vulnerable to disasters, and, in particular, the effect of significant weather events on the agriculture sector and the livelihood of our farmers. 

In October 2020, Agri Minister Floyd Green visited pepper farmers in St Catherine to assess the damage to their crops after heavy rains associated with Tropical Storm Zeta. (Photo: Twitter @FloydGreenJA)

The effects of climate change are a real and present danger, particularly to Caribbean countries. Current projections indicate that the intensity and frequency of severe weather events will continue. 

We must build resilience in Jamaica’s agriculture sector so our farmers can recover faster after a significant weather event. 

The implementation of disaster risk insurance for our farmers is one method to mitigate the effects of natural disasters on the agriculture sector. 

Insurance for our farmers is an investment, NOT a cost. This is the only way for Jamaica to rebound from the effects of adverse weather conditions with less impact on the economy, our farming communities, and the wider country. 

So, I am pleased that this new product from GK Insurance is going to help fill a gap in the agriculture sector to provide more access to insurance for farmers. 

Additionally, as a longer-term effort, we urgently need a systematic approach to agricultural risk management for the agricultural sector. I want to commend the Government and the Minister of Agriculture for advancing the implementation of a National Disaster Risk Financing Policy. 

The discussion about insurance for farmers must be ongoing to increase the scope of coverage and access for our farmers while also building their awareness of the benefits of insurance. 

Innovation in farming 

More investment in technology and sustainable farming practices is also necessary to build a robust agriculture sector. Technology and sustainable farming practices can positively impact the vulnerability of the sector by creating resistance to drought, hurricanes, and crop disease. 

Access to credit for farmers 

Improving access to credit for our farmers is instrumental to the growth of the agricultural sector. 

A St Elizabeth farmer at work in the field with bags of Irish potatoes.

Data from the International Monetary Fund a few years ago showed that there is a direct link between private credit and agricultural productivity. An increase in private credit by one per cent of GDP boosts value-added per agricultural worker by one per cent. 

Our farmers need the support to access technical training and to think big and think new technology, and processes, and they need access to credit to increase their productivity through mass production of certain crops. 

I know Minister Green and the team at the ministry has several initiatives underway way in this regard. 

Finally, I want to recognise the launch of GK Weather Product as an example of how the private and public sectors can work together for a better Jamaica. 

I take this opportunity to say congratulations to the GK Insurance Team on the development of this innovative product to provide the protection and support to our farmers when they need us the most. 

A special thanks to Minister Green and the team from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries for their role in facilitating the launch of GK Weather Protect. GraceKennedy looks forward to building on our longstanding partnership in the future.”