Broiler Company Boss Warns: Worse Yet to Come

JAMAICA - Leading broiler company president has warned poultry framers and consumers of even harder times ahead as the US financial crisis affects food imports, including poultry and beef.
calendar icon 6 October 2008
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It is only a matter of time before the financial crisis in the United States (US) will affect the pockets of local consumers, as food prices are expected to increase, say local and international food producers, reports Jamaica Gleaner.

Robert Levy, president and chief executive officer of Jamaica Broilers Group Limited, warned poultry growers of changing times ahead, on 2 October.

"We are in changing times. We really have not experienced yet what is to come," said Mr Levy at the company's Poultry Growers' Awards Luncheon, held at the Caymanas Golf and Country Club in St Catherine.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is also monitoring the financial crisis in the US, pointing out that food security might be compromised by the meltdown. Dr Dunstan Campbell, FAO representative in Jamaica, The Bahamas and Belize, told the newspaper that food was considered on the stock market as a secure commodity for trading.

"The switch to food by brokers will increase more with what is happening with the financial situation in the US," opined Campbell.

Food items that are likely to be impacted are rice, wheat products, poultry and beef. All these items have escalated in cost, in a few cases more than twice, since January this year.

Option for Trading

The FAO representative reasoned that while other types of stock falter, food commodities might be viewed as an option for trading.

Stockbrokers have already bought some paddy fields, in California that are still under cultivation. This, Dr Campbell said, may compromise food security as traders will determine buyers and prices.

Speaking to The Sunday Gleaner following Thursday's function, Mr Levy said the time frame for Jamaican consumers to seriously feel the effect of the US financial situation is uncertain.

"I think there is going to be a whole different change in financing as interest rates go up; that's going to be there for a period of time. The banking sector is going to go through some major changes, and I think we are going to find a greater stress on food security in Jamaica," said Mr Levy.

The Agricultural Census of Jamaica 1996 stated that only some 273,000 hectares of 449,493 hectares of farmland in the country are active lands.

A report from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica shows a steady increase in Jamaica's food-import bill, rising from US$479 million in 2002, to $662 million at November 2007.

Dr Campbell is adamant that with the financial meltdown in the US, government should increase domestic production to ensure that food is accessible and available to the poor.

"Examine the basic food-diet basket and look for commodities that can be produced locally and replace the imported items with those," he said.

Dr Christopher Tufton, agriculture minister, said the Government had embarked on a number of initiatives aimed at increasing production.

Provide More Products

Dr Tufton pointed to agricultural initiatives - such as a root and tuber programme that includes yam, cassava, sweet potato and pumpkin - as the main agent in providing more items in the marketplace.

An experimental rice programme, where seven varieties were planted to ascertain the best type suited for growing locally, is being spearheaded by the agriculture ministry. These initiatives, Tufton argued, would decrease how much is spent on importing food.

"We are doing a lot to ensure that we have more consistency with supply and quality. We just came out of a harsh period, but we expect it to be better off in the following months with these programmes in place," said Dr Tufton to Jamaica Gleaner.

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