Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Key to Dismantling Garrisons: Empowering the People, not the State.

- Ruel Cooke

The Distinguished Fellow, Mr. Edward Seaga, has claimed on two occasions in my presence that academics are not capable of understanding political tribalism. And the Most Honourable gentleman is known for not suffering (educated) fools gladly. He could well be right, which explains the Babel coming out of the babble of voices since the events of Labour Day prescribing solutions to our political crisis ranging from a quasi-military solution to the problem of crime & violence, to cleansing the political deck and replacing the politicians with (not yet corrupted but soon to be) young politicians, or strengthening the hand of “civil society” to exercise control over the political system.

What is hidden from the wise and prudent is a simple truth revealed to the daily victims of political tribalism: the link between crime and politics can never be severed by our political leaders and power brokers – because it is the very basis of the system that perpetuates their political and economic power within a divided, under-developed society.

Those genuinely interested in political transformation – the current buzz-word of all and sundry – need to understand the nature of “political clientilism” and its root in economic deprivation. The person who coined the term, the late Professor Carl Stone, uses it in his book, Democracy and Clientilism in Jamaica, to describe a system where politicians “privatise” state benefits such as housing and employment and build clienteles of electoral support among the poor. In Electoral Support and Public Opinion in Jamaica, he explains that this is the device used by Government to gain mass support for policies and programmes which serve primarily middle-class and upper-class interests.

Based on this definition of the problem which has now blown up in our faces, the simple truth is that the politicians and leaders of civil society, whose interests are served by political clientilism, should not be expected to dismantle the system, no matter how sincere their protestations of concern. They may dismantle the garrisons which they have wittingly or unwittingly put in place to preserve their power (with unavoidable wanton destruction of life and property) but they will have to replace it with a more direct and repressive system of “law and order” – unless they are prepared to share some of their power with those who are deprived of it.

This is the truth that Mr. Seaga correctly points out that our middle-class intellectuals will never be able to fathom – garrisons are necessary for the preservation of the prevailing economic and social order. Speaking of a few “garrison constituencies” is a gross over-simplification of the problem. Our system dictates that there be an ever-increasing number of garrison communities of the urban poor of both stripes (green or orange) within constituencies.

Jamaica’s modern political system came into being as a result of the struggle of the poor around our first Labour Day in 1938 to change our economic system by any means necessary so that they could have a share of the economic cake. Ever since being given the power by the British to share up this cake our political leaders took the decision to share only that portion of the cake that its foreign and local owners were prepared to give up to preserve social peace. There just wasn’t enough to go around. Our politics thus became a struggle among warring tribes for state benefits. Those who had would have to be depended on to keep those who had not under heavy manners. And so Tivoli was born as the first institutionalization of this system into political garrison enclaves strong enough to preserve the political One Order throughout the entire constituency.

Clem Tavares soon caught on and built his own garrison community in Tavares Gardens (since captured by young Portia Simpson and reverting to its original name of Payne Land). Then Wilton Hill built his Wilton Gardens (Rema). The PNP caught on by the 1970s and not even its public rhetoric about the need for radical change of the system could prevent their cynical engagement in a massive programme of garrisonisation, beginning with Arnett Gardens. By the 1980s, the political enforcers woke up to the fact they were the real source of their political bosses’ power and of the continued ability of the owners of productive resources to conduct business in relative peace. Enter the don and his (masculine) system of donmanship.

The don emerged out of and eventually replaced the community youth clubs into which the corner crews were organized in the 1970s. When those who monopolised power in the land refused to empower these and other community organizations, their desperate leaders sought, in the 1980s, to empower themselves by seeking the voluntary payment of “survival taxes” by the owners of businesses operating within their respective communities. Since the authority of the democratic community structures were not recognized and legally enshrined by the state their authority had to be imposed through “badness” – the rule of benevolent terrorism of the don.

The solution to the rule of donmanship in the inner-city communities ought to be able to be simply and logically deduced, but is complicated in the tortured minds of those whose power depends on political clientilism but is now threatened by its offshoot - the disempowerment of the don can only be effected by the empowerment of the democratically evolved community organizations.

Effective empowerment means the politicians ceding the power to dispense state benefits (less, not more, MP-dispensed Constituency Development Funds); it means the people, through their democratic community structures, being given and accepting the responsibility for the productive utilization and development of idle or under-utilised human and physical resources within the borders of their community (including land); it means the people taking responsibility themselves for the security, welfare and development of their community and not depending on the benevolence of occupying external forces (including the state); and it means Government accepting its new role to be that of strengthening of the democratic authority of the community structures and the economic and social empowerment of all its citizens – (which cannot happen under the imposed regime of financial control by the globalizing power of the IMF).

Are we really ready for what it takes to effectively “dismantle the garrisons” and institutionalize the new political order that we now so glibly talk about?
Are we ready to stand up and fight the right revolution?
Are we ready to stand up and fight it just like soldiers?
Many are called, but… (Finish it for Brother Dennis Brown.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Forum on Saving PRIDE

O. Dave Allen, in an e-mailed letter to BlackJamaica, has brought to our attention the threat of destruction of an important People Sector institution – the Provident Societies providing democratic ownership and management of PRIDE schemes – and of the Government’s policy of deliberate “garrisonisation” of these communities, which has resulted in a marked increase in politically motivated crime and violence, including murders, in these informal-settler communities.

We invite our readers to take a stand to prevent this further emasculation of the Third Sector within the Jamaican political-economy by joining the forum in this blog and raising your voices in the other sections of the national media, in your respective political parties and People Sector organisations, especially your community organisations. Where legal action can be taken to protect the rights of organised settlers, we invite progressive lawyers and altruistic citizens to assist these Provident Societies to protect the rights and properties of their members.

Click “comments” at the bottom of this post to join the debate and view comments made by others on what action, if any, needs to be taken. Mr. Allen’s (edited) communication to us is reproduced below:

Government “Garrisonising” PRIDE Communities

By O. Dave Allen

In a meeting with Minister Baugh and Dr. Horace Chang, Minister of Water and Housing, on Thursday, October 15, Dr. Chang reaffirms his decision not to work with Provident Societies as the legal entities representing community development agencies. While it is the prerogative of the Minister to revamp or abandon the Operation PRIDE framework as Government policy to address informal settlement issues, it cannot be the right of the Minister to dictate the legal form and structure of community organizations.

The action of the Minister amounts to victimization and a crude attempt to polarize communities and is an ominous forewarning of government policy to develop garrisons, as exemplified by the barefaced attempt to relocate urban residents of Kingston to St. Thomas. Meanwhile, the National Housing Agency of Jamaica, successor to the NHDC, is busily forming parallel community structures competing with existing community organizations to carry out the same function, tribalizing once peaceful communities into warring fractions and heightening tension within several communities

If the political garrison is a causal factor in the increased levels of crime and violence, we cannot allow the government to move unchallenged to carry out community formation without a governance structure that is non-partisan, democratic and transparent to monitor and to temper the excesses and exuberance of the state to perpetuate their own existence. Left unchecked, the 900,000 squatters and the more that 700 marginalized communities are prime targets to be garrisonized

This is taking place while the Opposition is sleeping on the job and civil society and former proponents of degarrisonization of communities are silent.

Quarry Hill, St. Catherine

In respect to recent events at Quarry Hill, it is clear that with the Ministry broke they are forced to find money by selling out high-value “greenfield” land on the open market even at the expense of displacing people who have occupied those premises, while curry-favouring with those they allow to remain on the “brownfield” settlements with infrastructure development without recourse to any resettlement policy that is prepared to resettle displaced people.

O. Dave Allen
Community Organizations for Management and Sustainable Development (COMAND)

Editorial Comment

If my memory serves me right the acronym PRIDE means: Project for Renewal, Industrial Development and Empowerment. This sums up the admirable original concept of Operation PRIDE – to transform informal (mainly squatter) settlements by a process of integrated development into a source of pride by their residents. The concept called for the self-organisation of settlers to develop their property in a self-reliant manner to pool their capital to purchase these properties, provide infrastructure such as roads and sewage, and industrial parks and green areas for employment, recreation and sustainable development. The self-reliant community development model was proposed in light of the fact of the sparsity of government resources to fund the orderly development of these numerous informal settlements.

The original concept was corrupted when the Patterson administration sought to court the political support of the PRIDE beneficiaries by supposedly “loaning” the Provident Societies organized to manage the respective schemes resources to jump-start infrastructure development works that could not be brought to a state of completion. In the process, they corruptly provided infrastructure contracts to favoured political funders as well as “sold” house-spots to beneficiaries under the table. They further encouraged a state of dependency on government patronage by legitimizing the status of squatters without requiring them to fulfill their commitment to pay for the properties through the Provident Societies.

This strategy paid rich political dividends for the PNP in the 1997 and 2003 General Elections, but effectively turned the settlements into government housing schemes and undermined the authority of the Provident Societies of disciplined, organized residents.

Having allowed the sowing of the wind of political corruption, we are now reaping the whirlwind of reverse political ethnic cleansing and garrisonisation – including the use of state terrorism. Now it is time to re-establish the sovereignty of the People.

Mr. Dave Allen has managed to organize a number of these Provident Societies in the western region of the island within an umbrella organization – COMAND. He has been fighting a lonely battle to preserve the integrity and authority of these Provident Societies against land-capture by a predatory state and political clientilist control. (Note that the Almanac of Jamaica OF 1849 lists properties with a total of 356,431 acres which were abandoned between 1832 and 1849, with the loss of slave labour. This amounts to nearly a quarter of all land in farms, according to the Agricultural Census of 1968. This means that a quarter of farm-land is capture-land held by Government or other landlords.)

Two Consultations were held in April with representatives of these organizations for community empowerment – one at the Jamaica Grandiosa Hotel for Western societies and one at the University of Technology, under the auspices of its Urban Planning Department, for Eastern societies. The consensus of these Consultations was that an umbrella organization be established to represent all the Provident Societies in the island. This is an obvious area crying out for involvement and concerted action by all social activists who consider themselves progressives committed to the empowerment of the People Sector.

At the same time, it is the statutory responsibility of the Registrar and Department of Cooperatives and Friendly Societies to regulate the operations of these Provident Societies and protect their authority and their property against all predators. The current Registrar would do well to restore the independence and integrity of his office that was lost when a predecessor bowed to political pressure from his Minister to disband the sugar workers’ cooperatives to satisfy a campaign promise by the victorious party in the 1980 Elections.

The Stimulus Package agreed by both Consultations for government action is deserving of our active support:
1. Releasing the 17,000 titles that are currently in the vault of the Housing Agency of Jamaica so that the Provident Societies can leverage these titles for infrastructure development through individual mortgages.
2. Wave the transfer tax for parent tiles to the individual splinter titles. This would reduce the cost of the lot.
3. Set aside 20% of the annual budget of the NHT as a dedicated mortgage fund to Provident Societies whose members are qualified contributors to the NHT.
4. Differ payment on the government-owned lands so that funds available will be used for infrastructure development.
5. Transfer all open spaces and green areas on sites where the land is owned by government to Provident Societies so that they can leverage these lands for grant funding from local and international donor agencies to develop parks and recreational areas.

While exerting social pressure on Government to support and facilitate the community institutions, however, we should be aware that the system of political clientilism which characterises our politics militates against these demands being accepted voluntarily. We should therefore put our greater effort into organising the people from the bottom up to exert their potential power of control over the assets that they currently occupy through legal and any other means necessary.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rapid Response Water to Lead Way to Worker-Ownership

Vincent Morrison, NWU President

“Worker participation” at last?!

As the Government moves to close down the Rapid Response water distribution unit of the Ministry of Water & Housing, it has been announced that the workers will seek to purchase the assets, comprising mainly water trucks, through an Employees Share Ownership Plan (ESOP).

The Michael Manley administration of the ‘70s made a lot of noise about “worker participation” but did precious little to give workers a stake in the businesses in which they worked. Manley realised this major failure of his administration and set up a consulting firm, Manley & Manley, to attempt to do something about this while he was in opposition during the ‘80s. When he returned to power, he introduced the ESOP legislation to facilitate this. But still, later administrations and the Trade Union movement have failed to aggressively pursue this agenda which could bring about a revolutionising of relations of production between workers and management and give more Black Jamaicans a sizeable piece of the rock.

The reasons for the failure to take up the ESOP option are said to be that the ESOP Act is too difficult for laymen to understand and that expenses associated with preparing a business plan and hiring an independent Auditor are prohibitive. But the same could be said of the Cooperative Societies’ Act, yet these “obstacles” have been overcome, mainly with the establishment of a Cooperative Department to simplify the rules and regulations, prepare Model Rules for the management of co-ops., and provide assistance with Auditors at affordable rates. The ESOP Unit in the Ministry of Labour, which could provide this same function, has been closed. It is left to the Commissioner of Audit & Assessment to administer the scheme through giving the tax breaks allowed by the ESOP Act. Now, why should the Income Tax Department be interested in foregoing revenue?

The closing of the ESOP Unit, therefore, might be a blessing in disguise, as we would be able to avoid unnecessary Government regulation of ESOP schemes and further bureaucracy. It presents a golden opportunity for the union movement, united within the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) to take charge of the development of a strong Third Sector within the Jamaican economy to compete with the Corporate Clientilist Sector and its facilitator, the ever-dwindling but still powerful State Sector, thanks to its power to legislate.

All eyes will be focused on the Rapid Response water-men and their union, the NWU. Black Jamaica is relying on you to make a success of this social experiment. This ESOP must not be allowed to suffer the fate of other People Sector businesses that have been hijacked and have come to form the personal empires of its former executives – like the Building Societies, Jamaica Producers (formerly Jamaica Banana Producers’ Co-op.), the National Commercial Bank (NCB) and Workers’ Bank.

This means that the management of the ESOP should not be left to the trustees to run the business through giving lucrative management contracts to favoured professionals. An Educational Programme needs to be initiated to impart the principles of participatory management to the workers, such as is done in the Labour-Managed Firms of Northern European countries. Workers must participate in every aspect of management, including the development of the Business Plan, the Memorandum of Association which governs the running of the business, and the system of labour payment, performance incentives and distribution of profit.

If the Union is slow to set up this educational and participatory system, persons with the requisite skills who are interested in the development of the People Sector should offer their services to the pioneering workers of the Rapid Response Unit and their Union.

We can make this a new beginning for workers!

Rebel Music Super-Clash or Devil Music?

The Gaza\Gully phenomenon involving the rival musical alliances of dance-hall DJs headed by Vybz Kartel and Mavado, respectively, has totally consumed our youth culture. This was vividly demonstrated in a heated high-school discussion on All Angles on TVJ last Wednesday night. The question for people concerned with the cultural health of Black Jamaica and the quality of our musical product is: Is this just another example of the passion and vibrancy of our roots music in expressing and protesting the reality of the condition of the urban poor? Or is it both a symptom and cause of the “devil philosophy” that has penetrated the ghettoes, resulting in the triumph of a drug-and-gun culture of tribal violence and female denigration and whorism as the people lose hope in a better future?

The flip side of Afro-Caribbean culture, resting on the base of Afro-Christian (not least Rastafarian) values of peace, love, livity and justice has always been a counter-culture of protest and resistance to oppressive authority that can be branded as anti-social behaviour. Perhaps our greatest exponent of rebel music, the great Peter Tosh, was noted for his violent lyrics against the “shitstem”, often laced with colourful language. But Tosh also warned against the threat of “culture vultures”, or “vampires”, bent on destroying our musical legacy for commercial reasons – not to mention our solidarity as an oppressed people, to the advantage of Babylon.

Gaza/Gully has escalated to such proportions that it threatens to eclipse the quality music being produced by rising icons like Taurus Riley, Queen Ifrica, the Fireman crew and Etana. Progressive people can no longer continue to ignore it. It is time to take a stand one way or the other after careful analysis and seek to direct it to positively contribute to our culture. Undirected, it could further escalate into another serious source of division among Black people and tribal violence.

Let your opinions be heard by posting a comment below and by answering our poll question.

For an example of the clash, click the following link:

Do Human Rights Trump Cultural Values?

The entertainment pages and programmes of our media this week were full of stories about Buju Banton’s problems with the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans-sexual) human rights lobby in several United States cities where he attempted to do shows promoting his new album.

I remember Dr. Julius Garvey, son of the National Hero, being asked at a public forum in the 1990s what was his stance on this issue. His response was simple:

“It is not a part of our cultural heritage.”

But is it enough to make this observation and leave it at that? Should consenting adults be afforded the right under Jamaican law to indulge in their gay lifestyle in privacy? There can be little rational argument against this, even if it offends our moral sensibilities. But do they have a right to openly promote their gay lifestyle within the society? That is where the clash of cultures takes place and one has to consider whether the human rights of minorities are more important than the preservation of the cultural values of that society.

Are all human rights global, or only those enshrined in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration on Human Rights? Should cultural values be globalised?

Have your say on this controversial topic in the global community of progressives. Post a comment below.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fishermen’s Beach under Threat from Portmore Mayor

Yet another People Sector institution is in danger of being gobbled up by the predatory state, this time at the Local Government level. Mayor Keith Hinds of Portmore has “big plans” for the Hellshire fishermen’s beach, owned by the Half Moon Bay Fishermen’s Co-op. He wants the Government’s biggest landlord, the UDC, to cancel the lease to the fishermen and women and hand it over to the Portmore Municipal Council so that it can be developed into a lucrative tourist resort. (Never mind the ordinary Black Jamaicans who use the beach and can’t afford tourist prices.)

Since Parish Councils are not known for their ability to run commercial ventures, it is fair to assume that some favoured member of the “productive sector” would be given the franchise to run the beach and earn the lion’s share of the profits, while the Municipal Council would be satisfied with a nominal fee to help provide vital services. Meanwhile, another set of Black people would be deprived of their means of earning a living.

Wake up, Half Moon Bay Fishermen! Get your act together and organise your valuable little piece of the rock like a business, before you lose it to the fat cats.

Or if the Council really wants to earn revenue while helping the people they are supposed to be serving, then help the fishermen organise the beach as a commercial venture, by providing them with technical assistance.

See the Gleaner article at:

Forum on Food and Energy Self-Sufficiency

"There is enough land and manpower here to make Jamaica completely self-sufficient in food (except for grain to make flour) if only farmers could be assured of secure ownership of their land, protection from praedial larceny, provision of technical expertise and development of marketing systems." John Fletcher – winner of Gleaner Silver Pen Award for August.
“Thus in effect the tropics were held back by their need for a technological revolution in agriculture such as had been occurring in Western Europe over two centuries. ... Trade offers a one-for-all improvement, limited in this case by the low factoral terms. In contrast technological improvement is continuous. The tropics could not really hope to ‘take-off’ until technological change became embedded in their way of life.” W. Arthur Lewis. Growth and Fluctuations 1870-1913: p. 181

BlackJamaica wishes to explore the contention that Jamaica can become self-sufficient in food in a few short years by pursuing a policy of promoting domestic and export agricultural production by small and medium-sized farmers using advanced systems of technology and marketing and localized systems of alternative energy generation, primarily solar. Alternative energy generation using solar could also result in energy self-sufficiency, practically eliminating the oil import bill, which is by far the largest contributor to the national debt. We should insist, therefore, that no agreement be signed between the Government and the IMF that does not include a plan for food and energy self-sufficiency as a means of extricating ourselves from the debt trap of IMF-imposed Neoliberal “structural adjustment” policies.

David Cooke, the former Technical and Operations Manager of the defunct Agricultural Marketing Corporation (AMC), uses the two quotes above to launch the first salvo in what we hope will become a national debate and campaign for an alternative development path. We invite our readers to participate in this debate both in the pages of this blog, other media, their political parties and their respective People Sector institutions.

Time for a People-Based Technological Revolution

By David Cooke

"The common characteristic of all developed economies is their successfully carrying out a technological revolution".

Let's focus on this in Jamaica's case. We can simultaneously do this in both the energy (alternate energy) sector, and possibly in the small-farming-export sector, both of which are largely people-based and broad-based. Certainly we had begun to do that at AMC during the three years when I was there, before the incoming Seaga-led administration shut it down in retribution for losing the '76 elections. (He blamed the AMC for his loss and, in particular, the "special shops" as they were called, which really was not part of the AMC mandate to economically market farm goods).


Firstly, in respect to energy self-sufficiency, beginning with Solar-PV (Solar panels): Solar-PV lends itself to individual and multiple-home installations, these installations are ideally suited to the mechanical skills so prevalent among the masses in Jamaica. Care has to be taken as policy to ensure the home-installations are done exclusively by Jamaicans (even if trained by foreigners initially), and care also has to be taken not to restrict those who want to do-it-yourself as this is what fosters innovation. But to expand on this a little more:

By policy, if the "purchase price" for electricity using Solar-PV were set at say the Jamaican equivalent of 25 cents US per kilowatt-hr. when "selling" to JPS (householders) via a 20-year guaranteed tariff structure - necessary to ensure the PV systems are "bankable" as collateral for loan financing - each household would have the ability to earn on average the equivalent of US$100 monthly over and above their own usage requirements. If we couple that with equipment financing programs similar to those done for motor car purchases - the systems are roughly the same cost as a "deportee" if the import tax regime is set to exactly mimic JPS generation equipment rather than treating it as household appliances - then it would be available to every household that could afford a deportee motor car, which I believe are most households.

With this (around 5,000 watt per household) installation, room air-conditioners become practical as there is sufficient individual household generation to accommodate this without resorting to purchase electricity from JPS. Now you have created a burgeoning market for household PV equipment, installations, local installers (think of all the mechanics who would jump at this), add on air conditioning sales and services, and $100 US a month "remittance" per household (reminiscent of those who were making monthly money from World-Wise and Olint or whoever). Powerful incentive? Result: you have taken care of 50% of JPS generation, stabilized the price (unlike the wildly-fluctuating pricing of electricity you now have), for systems that will last 40 years (unlike the JPS generators with a 20-year life span), improved household comfort levels, and "diffused" the electrical generation across Jamaica into discrete generation thereby reducing the chance of massive block blackouts.

So instead of having to find replacement JPS capital of the order of 350 MW times US$2,500 per KW - that is US$2,500 X 350,000 every 20 years or US$875 million … you finish the sentence!

Now that you have household PV installations with excess generation capacity, it is natural to then foster the use of electric vehicles or electric-gas hybrids. Conversion of gas to electric engines lends itself to innovation by our mechanics and is already being done small-scale in Jamaica. Imagine driving your car without having to pay for fuel! (Your fuel is derived from your home PV generation.) No more monthly gas bill.


Solar thermal, using heat from turbines instead of solar panels, results in concentrated generation more akin to JPS generating stations. This will largely be the purview of foreign companies given the large capital requirements - of the order of US$50 million per 10-15 MegaWatt installation. "20-year guaranteed Feed-in Tariff structure" again required - say US 17 cents equivalent for first 10 years, moderated downward by yearly adjustments thereafter for next 10 years as system prices fall (as is done in Germany, I seem to recall). However, by policy we should ensure any foreign company wishing to undertake generation should partner with a Jamaican company, as we did with the bauxite companies - which saved our ass when Alcoa decided to pull out in the ‘80's.

Result: Blended cost around US 20 cents per KW-hr. (or higher initially if necessary, since we now save US$400 million each and every year of the national fuel bill, which would have gone for JPS oil imports). Stable fixed prices for electricity, predictable in advance, constantly dropping with improvements in system costs, should approach US 10 cents per KW-hr. in future years. (Presently we are close to 30 cents and constantly rising.) An environment for agricultural processing plants and manufacturing to thrive and grow?? JPS used as backup only, in case of shortfalls or partial blackouts. All generation, purchases, and payments go through JPS to maintain the integrity and orderliness of the transmission and generation systems.

If it hasn't hit you by now, these are significantly higher annual returns than the US$200 million that caused us to go to the IMF in the ‘70s.

Put another way, Bauxite/Alumina, our 3rd-highest foreign-exchange earner after Tourism and Remittances, returns US$1,700 million annually into our coffers (and that was before the demise of Windalco and Alpart) while we send it all out again as oil purchases! (JPS at 6.5 million barrels and now US$70 per barrel – that is US$455 million – is just 25% of our oil imports.) We need to stop this bleed, using imported high-price oil to make steam for turbines, rather than ignoring it and spending scarce foreign exchange while worrying 'bout “IMF needed”!

21st Century Agricultural Production and Marketing

I could expound similarly on using innovation with agricultural produce, both at the curing/storage/export levels and at the growing-yield level. Witness the agricultural "green houses" revolution now taking place where produce is grown in controlled climatic conditions, which would find fast traction if there were institutionalized export and local marketing for these “hydroponic” and vertically-grown phenomena, rather than it being left to the growers themselves to also be burdened with the marketing.

I remember well how the Southfield farmers innovatively started to charter small planes and export their fruits – ripe bananas to Cayman and vegetable to Panama – in the early '80's in return for foreign exchange, and how this innovative approach to earnings and "the good life" was disrupted by the Govt. because only the state was allowed to own foreign exchange!!. (I believe there was some jealousy, as Southfield farmers’ living standards would now be above a lot of technocrats’.) Some of these farmers told me of their aversion to house mortgage, determined instead to pay for their houses outright, unlike the technocrats who all had to struggle with mortgage payments.

Technological revolution, with massive returns(financial and human)? The biggest blockage to this is the state, with their lack of foresight and blinkered view.

The last part of Mr. John Fletcher’s core statement in his award-winning letter is where we were making inroads when I was at AMC: provision of technical expertise and development of marketing systems. This is what was driving the turn-around, with exports exceeding US$1.5 million back then in the late '70s along with our traditional local marketing, and many technological improvements taking hold, among them the curing of yams to improve their shelf-life (3-month shelf life for negro yams, and 4 months for yellow yams); large-scale controlled ripening of bananas; solar-dried onions with a 6-month shelf life; massive controlled cold-storage of potatoes with a 9-month shelf life; solar-dried in-shell peanuts with a 6-month shelf life; etc. All these programs were done every year consistently, creating markets for these products well beyond their natural growing periods – and allowing better farm prices for these sought-after out-of-season crops.

Then on the farming side, we were strengthening and each year expanding our contract-farming program with established farmers having 5 to 15 acres or more of irrigation-ready lands, supplying them with technical and agricultural inputs and advice along with bankable purchase contracts for their out-of-season production of crops at guaranteed prices higher than in-season prices. In this way we were developing a growing cadre of reliable farmers, while spreading the growing season for crops outside of their natural growing season, thereby reducing the cyclical perennial "glut-and-shortage" problem.

And on and on we were constantly adding new systems and new approaches in our drive, making sure that each one took root before adding new ones. As our technology improved, so did our "shrinkage", both agricultural and fiscal. Initiatives included:

• the thrust to reduce the "glut" nature of our hillside farmers’ production and spread the production over many months;
• the thrust to increasingly widen the contract-farmer program - and so influence their growing practices;
• the thrust to deepen the links with large established farmers such as Ken and Richard Jones’ farms in Portland and St. Thomas by taking off their slightly-bruised export bananas and control-ripening them for the local market;
• the thrust to increase and widen export of farm produce to such non-traditional places as Canada (everything) and Trinidad (potatoes) - AMC exports were up to a figure of US$1.5 million per year, not including exports done on behalf of 3rd parties;
• the thrust to "broker" additional exports on behalf of 3rd parties by doing all the functions on their behalf - buying farmers produce, sorting and packing, and getting it export-ready for delivery;
• the thrust to increase both the shelf-life and storage life of produce;
• the thrust to improve the export quality and quantity, and sell the left-over “almost-first-grade” on the local market;
• the thrust to improve the "freshness" of leafy green vegetables at farm market - largely achieved by having the AMC's refrigerated trucks directly in the field during reaping;
• the thrust to alleviate shortages in all geographic areas across Jamaica by having those items in over-abundance in one area supplied to the areas in short supply - via our 19 retail shops islandwide - and in the process make our retail outlets profitable and fully stocked;
• the thrust to eliminate imported produce by a coordinated effort with the Jamaica Hotel & Tourism Association (JHTA) to supply the hotels islandwide with produce - a multi-million annual sales partnership that needed improving;
• the thrust to take off the intermittent gluts and have these processed by our manufactures into long-storage items - such as the tomato glut that we got Grace Kennedy and others to process into ketchup and tomato paste;
• the thrust to eliminate the human baggage that the former political directorates - going back to the time of Hugh Shearer - had saddled us with and which was accounting for 70% of our total expenses. Many of them were "ghost" employees at the buying-branch level, and I include the then President of the JAS, Courtney Fletcher, in this group.

Given all these initiatives, any wonder why our need for budget support dropped from $7.9 million to $3.2 million in the three short years I was there? And we were clearly quickly headed for budgetary self-sufficiency and beyond.

But alas, then came Seaga and his blinkered political view in 1980, and the AMC was no more; sacrificed on the political alter for political retribution. And what did the “liberalized” PNP do about this act of malicious neglect on regaining power for the next 18 years? Roger Clarke, the PNP minister of Agriculture, seemed not to have a technology-led bent in his thinking toward agriculture.