Guidelines for Diversification

As soon as the issue of diversification is raised the plantation boys throw their hands in the air and shot the question, why use our lands for this, if there is other idle land in the community. Put it this way their question raises even more profound and disturbing issue. How can a poor, land-hungry island economy, really have “idle” land. And, if this land is idle what are the institutional restraints which prevent its going into production. My answer in brief is the plantation system and programme of land tenure reform in the country must be based on the elimination of these private katifundias and latifundistas. It is the plantation system which contributes to the fact that 0.7% of the farms in Jamaica occupy 56% of the total acreage whilst 71% of the farms occupy 12% of total acreage.

As my colleague Brewster has argued, the problem of sugar is to be seen and analysed in the context of total planning and resource use. As far as land use is concerned it is impossible to do this and at the same time hold as sacrosanct the 25% of the country’s best cultivable land now under sugar. From this comprehensive standpoint it is also obvious that the merits or demerits of diversification not be based on any simplistic measure of how much we get per acre of sugar as against other crops. We have seen that a great deal of the cost of sugar production is hidden and indirect. In the diversification programme which I shall outline, a great deal of the benefits derive from the fact that the “new” forms of agriculture which I recommend create the basis of other industries within the economy and unlike sugar it is not necessary to have the real industrial use of the material i.e. sugar refining done outside of our shores.

The first problem of land utilisation is the land held in excess by the plantation. Total acreage belonging to the sugar manufacturers in excess of 200,000 acres (and this comes from the Mordecai Report despite Kirkwood’s claim that it is 170,000 acres) of which at most 80,000 acres are cultivated. The explanation offered for this situation is that the unused land is unsuitable for sugar and agriculture. Apart from wondering about the economies of buying land which is useless, apart from raising questions of honesty, it seems to me that if the land is too hilly as it is claimed, then it should be evaluated for use as the basis of an afforestation programme. Forestry demands on soil are minimal. Projected imports of pulp wood and paper for the whole of the West Indies will be in the region of 125,000 tons by 1975 at a value of about £14m at 1962 prices. In Jamaica alone in 1965 import values of pulp wood and paper was £8m. A programme of afforestation also aids conservation and thus yields other indirect benefits. The first line of enquiry therefore is the forest potential of the so-called “useless” land held by the plantation estates. This potential has to be examined on the basis of the feasibility of the integrated set of activities centring on a pulp and paper manufacturing industry.

The second area of diversification is into vegetable production. Here it is often been claimed (as done in the Mordecai Report) that 500 acres each of onions, carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, peas, Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes would satisfy current Jamaican consumption levels. This leads to a total acreage of 3,500 acres. A little reflection will show that this is  not a good enough answer although it has been used to minimise the importance of vegetable production. Per capia consumption of vegegetables is about 75 lbs. per year, of potatoes about 18 lbs. per year. This average figure hides vast disparities and  clearly suggests that the bulk of the community is under-consuming vegetables at the desirable nutritional level. If we place the demand for vegetables in a dynamic context, i.e. one in which we aim at desirable nutritional standards, we eliminate unemployment which is government’s responsibility to do, we recognise population is growing at just under 3% per annum, and government undertakes its responsibility to ensure a more equitable distribution of income and if, in addition, we recognise that the demand for vegetables grows at least 1 1/2 times as fast as incomes then we recognise that the land requirements for vegetables are vastly in excess of that which is bandied about by the S.M.A., the press and the Government. Their estimate is based on the present levels of poverty and immiserisation of the vast majority of our people. Locally grown vegetables unlike sugar offer the prospect of utilizing indigenous foodstuffs for processing and canning. Therefore its contribution to output, income and employment is not limited to the yield of output per acre multiplied by price as is often claimed, but to the total complex of activities which follow from locally grown vegetables.

The third area of diversification is into meat and dairying. The Mordecai Report concedes that these activities have a greater profitability per acre than sugar but the Report dismissed it because of its high demand on farming skills. This to me is the utmost nonsense. I have seen (as anyone who has lived in the U.K. or the U.S.A. can attest) our so-called illiterate people hurled literally overnight into the most complex modern industrial societie and adjusting quite easily. As long as the incentive is there the peasants can do it. And the only way to provide the incentive is to produce agricultural crops for ourselves by ourselves.

Imports of fresh beef converted to number of bead of cattle in 1969 will average about 13,319 head of cattle. This requires a total stock of 76,000 to support the annual turnover. This alone is equal to one quarter of the existing population of cattle in Jamaica and on the basis of one acre per head on good lands (e.g. present sugar lands) would require 76,000 acres (usually 2 acres on rough land, thus 152,000 acres). Lamb and beef imports will also in 1969 be equal to 33,000 animals and would require a stock of 130,000 animals. On the basis of 4 sheep to one acre we have again a claim for 32,000 acres of land. As to processed beef, in 1965 we imported 4 million lbs. and on the basis of 250 lbs. processed beef per animal it was equivalent to a turnover of 16,000 animals and a stock requirement of 90,000 animals; and a further acreage requirement of 90,000 acres of best lands (or 180,000 acres of poor land).

Milk imports also equalled in 1965, 2o million lbs. Butter imports 7 million lbs., cheese and curd 3 million lbs. The import of butter and cheese was equal to about that produced by 40,000 head of dairy cattle as an annual turnover and a stock requirement of about 60,000 animals with an acreage of 60,000 acres of good land. Milk imports would require an annual turnover of 5,000 animals, a stock of 9,000 animals and an acreage of 9,000 acres. All of this ignores the fact that current meat consumption is only 30 lbs. per head per year and milk production 55 lbs. per head per year. When the other dynamic factors referred to in our look at vegetable production are taken into account it is clear that the acreage and cattle requirements would be significantly higher. The acreage totalled so far is 226,000 acres of good lands for farming to produce our 1969 requirements of beef and dairy products.