Sunday 22 September, 2019

Holness ‘sanctions’ $1 billion loan fund for agricultural sector

In the face of a public request from Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) President, Norman Grant, for the provision of an additional $1 billion in low-cost funding for the local agricultural sector, Prime Minister Andrew Holness responded positively on the closing day of the annual Denbigh Agricultural Show in Clarendon on Monday.

Grant, in his opening remarks on the official programme for the afternoon, had ‘demanded’ that the prime minister seek to source and make the additional funds available to the farming community, including entrepreneurs in the industry.

In citing that the sector accounts for six per cent of the national employment pool and seven and a half per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP), Grant called for the $1 billion special funding at four to five per cent interest rate, “similar to what was done for tourism”.

In forcing the PM’s hand amid what has been declared to be another successful staging of the  Denbigh Show, and perhaps the best yet over its 65-year history, Grant struck home at ‘Jamaica House at Denbigh’, where virtually the entire Holness family and a slew of Government ministers were in attendance and earshot.

Importantly too, the head of the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBG), Milverton Reyolds, was in the front row of the audience, and was prepped by Grant about the funding ‘assignment’ that would likely be coming from the prime minister.

In delivering his address, Holness affably ‘raised eyebrows’ about the virtual ‘stick-up’ from Grant, but conceded that the agricultural sector was deserving of the special arrangement, which he publicly delegated Reynolds to go in search of.

In issuing the instructions to Reynolds, Holness said he was confident of the DBG head’s ability to pull in the necessary funding at an attractive interest rate, and pointed to the approving nods from Finance Minister Audley Shaw in the audience as a sign of a ‘done deal’.

However, the prime minister said the dedicated, additional funding should be seen as incentive for the agricultural sector, and the farming community will need to make sure that the support is used to advance the development of the sector and positively impact the economy on a whole.

In declaring that agriculture is a business like any other, he called for a change in how some small farmers see themselves and their endeavours.

He said while the performance of the sector has been commendable overall, “there is (still) much more that can be done in our agriculture”.

Holness cited a number of crops, including red peas and onion, as having clear growth potential, and said the overall sector really deserves a special incentive.


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