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Sunday, July 09, 2006 

Under-investment in agriculture has led to social, economic decay - Ennis
Balford Henry
Sunday, July 09, 2006

STATE minister for agriculture, Errol Ennis, on Wednesday criticised the government in which he holds office for 'under-investing' in food production, saying the pattern has been established over a decade and has fostered social decay.
"We have failed to anticipate the tremendous social and economic consequences of the problems attendant with this long-term under-investment in our agricultural sector," said Ennis during his contribution to the sectoral debate in the House of Representatives.

He said that an examination of public expenditure on agriculture over 10 years - 1995/96 to 2005/06 - showed that the allocation of funds to the sector, as a percentage of the national budget, has averaged 1.27 per cent and actually showed a decline to 0.89 per cent in 2004/2005.

He commended a $400-million increase in production-related programmes and project areas this financial year, but suggested that the level of funding of the agricultural sector had compromised the integrity of the ministry's role as the facilitator of agricultural development and a major contributor to rural development and social stability.

"In the interim, the country is reaping the spoils of this decline, which is characterised by massive rural-urban migration, the mushrooming of urban inner-city communities and the attendant increase in anti-social behaviour," Ennis said.

"Faced with the consequences of long-term sub-optimal investment in agriculture and rural development, our responses have, in many ways, made the problems worse, by reducing the relative level of financial allocations to the sector."

He said Parliament should deliberate on ways to reverse the trend, "because the economic and social problems arising from the underdevelopment in agriculture have been identified for more than 50 years."

However, Ennis congratulated prime minister Portia Simpson Miller for deciding to give priority to agriculture as a primary engine of economic growth and rural development, saying that coupled with the increased allocation for production-related programmes for 2006/07, it signalled "the political will to reverse the decline of the decades."

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