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MINISTER of Agriculture and Fisheries Roger Clarke says ensuring that exporters meet the requirements of the Food Safety Modernisation Act will be one of his immediate priorities.

Clarke, speaking with JIS News, said with United States authorities expected to carry out inspections next month, focus will be placed on all areas dealing with the export of agricultural produce.

“There is a short window of opportunity left for us, so at this point in time we have to be looking at our packing houses and our labs. Traceability is also another aspect and therefore we are going to have our farmers do proper bookkeeping [of] the chemicals they use and all that. It’s a very complex situation, but we have to adhere to those conditions as laid down,” the minister said.

The Food Safety Modernisation Act is intended to institute critical steps toward strengthening the US food safety system, and places greater emphasis on preventing food-borne illnesses. The law was promulgated to protect US consumers from potential hazards from that could pose a health and safety risk.

Another area of focus for the new minister will be to stimulate production within the coffee industry as well as taking a serious look at the banana and cocoa producing sectors.

“It cannot be that we are importing bananas into the country at this point in time, so we have to find a way to deal with that. Cocoa production, the possibilities are endless in terms of demand and price, so we will be concentrating our efforts on resuscitating our cocoa production in the country,” Clarke said.

Efforts, Clarke said, will also be made to improve the marketing of domestic produce through revision of the Agricultural Business Information System, which is operated by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).

“The Agricultural Business Information System has to be updated to enable us to plan ahead for production and also to inform people as to what is needed at particular times, so that we don't have these gluts and shortages over time,” he pointed out.

Clarke said that increasing the number of RADA extension officers and the quality of service they provide to farmers would also be on the front burner, and a review of RADA would be done.

“RADA is going to be looked at because the service delivery to the farmers is also of the utmost. What we want to make sure is that quality service is rendered to the farmers,” the minister said.

In addition, Clarke stated that the Government would be moving to provide a greater level of security to the fisheries sector. This, he said, will be done by expediting the passage of the fisheries legislation.

“We have to fast track this to enable us to deal with our fisheries situation in a more precise way and to protect our aquatic resources,” he emphasised.

The ministry will also be working closely with other stakeholders to guarantee the sustenance of the school feeding programme, he said. “We’re looking at nutrition in our schools. The former administration had begun to look in that direction. We also have to fast track that, so that our young people can be properly fed to enable them to learn and be good citizens in the future. The dairy industry, that’s one of the areas we're targeting to help in the school feeding programme.

In the meantime, the minister stressed that despite the potential challenges facing the sector, failure was not an option.“Our purpose is to really advance the agricultural sector to enable our rural folks to really rise to a higher standard. Rural development is at the heart of what we are about and we must make sure we succeed,” he said.

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