Pottinger wants agriculture minister to shape up

STILL deeply committed as he approaches his 90th year of existence, agriculture powerhouse A A “Bobby” Pottinger wants Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Pearnel Charles Jr to listen more to industry officials with experience and technical knowledge of the business.

Pottinger, custos emeritus of St Mary who has headed powerful agricultural organisations such as the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), the All-Island Banana Growers Association, and who served as a director for 25 years of the Coconut Industry Board, believes that Charles Jr has not participated well enough in the key organisations, and wants that to change.

“Charles Jr, for the most part, has come in and ignored organisations like the JAS and the Coconut Industry Board and is not very familiar with how they are run. He has not been visiting meetings of these organisations, although he has been invited. He is a bright lawyer but he needs to speak with members of the industry more,” Pottinger said during an interview with the Jamaica Observer in St Mary last Tuesday.

Among the things that Pottinger would like to see emphasised is more opportunities for farmers to access loans through the Agriculturural Credit Bank, which now falls under the direct supervision of the prime minister and no longer the minister of agriculture.

“That cannot be right,” Pottinger said, “Charles must insist that the ACB goes back under the control of the minister of agriculture. Accessing loans is a problem for farmers, largely because some of them don’t have the security being asked for.”

Saying that Charles had “lost his way”, Pottinger questioned how the minister, and the minister of state in the ministry could have been given awards for good work over the past year by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) — an agency that operates under the banner of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

“I have never seen or heard of that before,” he said. “There have been so many ministers who have done well at agriculture over the years but I have never heard of them being so recognised by an agency which reports to them.

“The minister does not understand RADA and how it works. RADA was formed by Horace Clarke when he served as minister of agriculture during the 1990s. He had as advisors myself and [Errol] ‘Jigs’ Ennis, who was his minister of state at the time. It’s an organisation that works with the JAS to dispense all the things that Government wants to do for the farmers so he would come to the meetings and get a feel of what the communities want, and do that.

“For example, the praedial larceny enforcement project is not a Government initiative — it was formed by me in the JAS, with the ministry of agriculture participating. It’s a JAS thing where every branch has the JAS sales books. You write up that and save a copy for the police so that, for example, when the higglers are confronted by the police with goods they have the source of the thing [receipt].

“[Then Prime Minister] Bruce Golding, after I addressed a committee of the House of Representatives years ago, pushed for the praedial larceny unit to work through RADA and not the JAS, which was wrong. The receipt books were printed in England, so nobody could copy them. It still goes through the JAS right now, because it is only they who can handle it, but they will give a copy to the police. All the cattle and goat aspect of it has not been properly set up yet.

“The proposal was for: In every community there would be a district constable attached to a police station and they would come to the JAS meeting; they know all the informal traders within the community as you have a problem when people come from outside and buy, so they must get a receipt.

“We also set it up that you must have a produce inspector too, like when banana is sent to the wharf in Port Antonio the man has to inspect the fruit before it goes there. It’s the same thing with this system when goods are leaving the community.

“Anybody who buys a goat has to show a receipt to the police, and even public health inspectors would keep a book on the source of the purchase. That has been shifted to RADA and it is not working,” Pottinger lamented.

The agriculture minister was also chastised by the veteran farmer for excluding the JAS from participating in a fact-finding trip by agriculture officials to Nigeria recently.

“They send people down to Nigeria to look at agriculture, but they don’t send anybody from the JAS.That’s not right. The minister is now forming farmers groups on a political basis and they will die, because you can’t ignore the JAS. He is not getting the feel from the farmers,” Pottinger went on.

He also cited division in the JAS as an issue affecting that organisation, while reflecting on the early days of the group which he said was based on a united movement that operated with strength.

“All of the great agriculture ministers of the past came through the JAS,” Pottinger said.

As for the best minister of agriculture that he has seen and worked with, Pottinger called some famous names, among them John P Gyles, William Seiveright, and Keble Munn, but settled on one in the end: Isaac Barrant, a scarcely literate Jamaica Labour Party Member of Parliament for St Thomas Eastern who was known to have got on well with the average man than most others when he served as Jamaica’s second Minister of Agriculture and Lands from 1950 to 1956.

“Barrant would listen to the farmers and connect with them in a way that no one else could,” Pottinger said of the man who was one of the first elected members of the House of Representatives in the historic parliamentary election of 1944.

Originally hustling as a sideman on a truck, Barrant also worked on banana and sugar properties and served the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union as supervising secretary in St Thomas before entering elective politics and serving under Chief Minister Alexander Bustamante.

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