JAMAICA: Editorial | Shaw's chance to modernise agriculture - EntornoInteligente

Entornointeligente.com / Jamaica Gleaner / Audley Shaw’s selling of his transfer from finance to agriculture as a promotion may just be spin against embarrassment. Yet, his rambunctious spirit may be just what that portfolio needs, and he may have the last laugh.

So far, he has been saying mostly the right things. And very critically, he has defined agriculture as a key economic ministry and a potential driver of sustained economic growth. The issue now is to translate sentiment into concrete action.

Having stumbled badly as finance minister in the previous Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration when he ran the agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) aground, Mr Shaw made no major mistakes over the two years of his second go at the job. He was slowly clawing back his reputation. So, his displacement by Nigel Clarke may be as much about trust and loyalty – Mr Shaw challenged Prime Minister Andrew Holness for leadership of the JLP – as technical competence.

Mr Shaw brings to his new job a bluff personality and the skill of popular communication that makes him just as at ease among the unlearned masses, which make the most of the estimated 220,000 people who work in agriculture, as the corporate bosses and technocrats with whom he has been rubbing shoulders. And he, no doubt, has a decent grasp of the workings of the Jamaican economy and the tensions that often arise between the finance ministry’s need to hold a tight rein on the fiscal accounts and the need of line ministries to finance their projects – some of them growth-oriented.

Mr Shaw, in this context, has made two significant observations.

 

SANDWICH PORTFOLIO  

One is that agriculture – the management of which is sandwiched in a portfolio that also covers industry and commerce – can help fuel sustainable growth. Indeed, as the IMF’s (International Monetary Fund) resident representative, Lonkeng Ngouna, observed in an analysis this past January of the period 2004 to 2017, there is a strong correlation between growth in agriculture and growth in the broader economy. The obvious implication is for Jamaica to sustain growth in the agriculture sector, which is not only, by far, the country’s largest employer of labour, but an important prop for rural communities.

Mr Shaw is also optimistic that Jamaica can return to the strong growth periods of the 1950s and ’60s, but stressed that it won’t be merely an outlay that will generate the spurt. “It requires methods, it requires plans and it requires application,” he said.

In that regard, Mr Shaw has the tools to inspire the bulk of the current farmers to do more in the current environment. In that he is a bit like Roger Clarke, the late People’s National Party’s agriculture minister of the 1990s and 2000s. But to be really transformative, Mr Shaw also has to make agriculture sexy to a younger generation of better-educated Jamaicans. The model, in this respect, is Christopher Tufton, the agriculture minister in the 2007-2012 JLP administration, after who things went into reverse.

Finding ways – as Mr Shaw says he will do – to bring idle farm lands back to production is part of the equation. Another part is to create linkages between agriculture and other sectors of the economy, while projecting the sector as modern and efficient, as a place where a new generation of savvy Jamaicans should want to be. “So, we have to focus on financing, technology transfers (and) on training,” Shaw said.

If he gets it right, Mr Shaw may well be able to sustain his line that having fixed the macroeconomy he has now turned his attention to fixing matters at the micro level.

JAMAICA: Editorial | Shaw’s chance to modernise agriculture

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