‘Minister, we can’t breathe’
Opposition Spokesman on Agriculture and Rural Affairs Victor Wright’s analogy of the police killing of American George Floyd with the Government’s “disgraceful removal” of small farmers from the former Bernard Lodge Sugar Estate failed to ignite a response from State Minister Floyd Green on Wednesday.
But when the Trelawny North member of parliament used his Sectoral Debate presentation to touch on Jamaica’s growing food import bill, it evoked a strong response.
Wright, who is an agronomist, told the House of Representatives that for the calendar year 2019, Jamaica’s food import bill had gone past US$1 billion for the first time in history, with increases in most areas.
He described as worrying the fact that at US$1.025 billion, the 2019 bill has outstripped the previous year by US$116 million, an increase of 12.8 per cent.
“To have achieved and surpassed a billion dollars in agricultural imports is indeed worrying and underscores the Opposition’s concerns and repeated calls for a national plan to address the myriad of inaccuracies which beset the agricultural sector,” declared Wright, who was making his maiden sectoral address.
It was, however, his attack on the Government’s strategic programme seeking to improve self-sufficiency in Irish potato and onion that drew the ire of Green, who rose on a point of order to challenge the Opposition spokesman.
Accusing Wright of giving the impression that Irish potato importation was a recent strategy implemented by the governing Jamaica Labour Party, Green declared: “He is misleading the House in his pronouncements.”
Earlier, the North Trelawny member of parliament had failed to elicit a response when he informed the House that small farmers were relocated from some of the country’s most fertile land at Bernard Lodge with irrigation infrastructure valued at over a billion dollars and placed in a flood zone with unproductive and semi-saline soil.
“SCJ Holdings has unleashed on these farmers, ravaging their livelihoods and grudgingly providing a space with no irrigation infrastructure,” Wright charged.
“I bring a message to the minister on behalf of these farmers. Minister, we can’t breathe. This policy equates to the Government having its knees on the farmers’ necks and they are bawling out, we can’t breathe,” said Wright, drawing on the anguished plea of Floyd as a policeman knelt on his neck until he died on May 27 in Minneapolis, USA.
“This Opposition is not against housing, (but) we are also for agriculture and the preservation of our arable lands for the future security of our country.”