Pottinger wants the Minister of Agriculture to form up

POTTINGER… Charles is a smart lawyer but he needs to speak more to members of the industry (Photo: HG Helps)

AA “Bobby” Pottinger, an agricultural powerhouse nearing his 90th year, is still very committed and wants the Secretary of Agriculture and Fisheries, Pearnel Charles Jr., to focus more on industry officials with experience and technical knowledge hear about the business.

Pottinger, custodian emeritus of St. Mary, who has led powerful agricultural organizations such as the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) and the All-Island Banana Growers Association, and served as director of the Coconut Industry Board for 25 years, believes that Charles Jr not sufficiently engaged in the key organizations and would like to see this changed.

“Charles Jr. has mostly come in, ignoring organizations like the JAS and the Coconut Industry Board and not very familiar with their leadership. He did not attend the meetings of these organizations, although he was invited. He’s a smart lawyer, but he needs to talk more to members of the industry,” Pottinger said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer last Tuesday at St. Mary.

Among the things Pottinger would like to highlight are more opportunities for farmers to access credit through the Agricultural Credit Bank, which is now under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister rather than the Minister of Agriculture.

“That can’t be true,” said Pottinger, “Charles must insist that the ACB be returned to the Agriculture Secretary’s control. Access to credit is a problem for farmers, mainly because some of them do not have the required security.”

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Pottinger said Charles was “lost” and asked how the minister and state minister at the ministry were able to receive awards for good work from the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) – an agency that has been operating for the past year under the banner of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

“I’ve never seen or heard of that,” he said. “There have been so many ministers who have done well in agriculture over the years but I have never heard of them being so recognized by any authority under them.

“The minister doesn’t understand RADA and how it works. RADA was founded by Horace Clarke when he was Secretary of Agriculture in the 1990s. He had me and I as advisors [Errol] ‘Jigs’ Ennis, who was his Secretary of State at the time. It’s an organization that works with the JAS to distribute all the things the government wants to do for the farmers so he comes to the meetings and gets a sense of what the communities want and does it.

“For example, the Predial Theft Enforcement Project is not a government initiative – it was set up by me at JAS with the participation of the Department of Agriculture. It’s a JAS thing where every branch has the JAS sales books. They write that down and save a copy for the police so that, for example, if the Higglers are confronted by the police with merchandise, they have the source of the matter [receipt].

“[Then Prime Minister] Bruce Golding, after I spoke before a House Committee years ago, urged that the Presidential Theft Unit work through RADA and not JAS, which was wrong. The receipt books were printed in England, so nobody could copy them. It’s still going through the JAS at the moment because only they can handle it, but they will give the police a copy. The whole cattle and goat aspect is not set up properly yet.

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“The proposal was: in each community there would be a district constable attached to a police station and they would come to the JAS meeting; they know all the informal traders within the community as they have a problem when people from outside come and buy so they have to get a receipt.

“We also stipulated that you also have to have a product inspector, like when bananas are sent to the wharf in Port Antonio, the man has to inspect the fruit before they go there. The same applies to this system when the goods leave the community.

“Anyone who buys a goat has to provide the police with a receipt and even health inspectors would keep a record of the source of the purchase. That was moved to RADA and it doesn’t work,” complained Pottinger.

The agriculture minister was also chastised by the veteran farmer for recently banning the JAS from attending a fact-finding mission of agriculture officials to Nigeria.

“They send people to Nigeria to look at agriculture, but they don’t send anyone from JAS. That is not right. The minister is now forming peasant groups on a political basis and they will die because you can’t ignore JAS. He doesn’t get that feeling from the farmers,” Pottinger continued.

He also cited the split in the JAS as a problem affecting that organization while reflecting on the group’s beginnings, which he says was based on a unified movement operating with strength.

“All the great agriculture ministers of the past came through the JAS,” Pottinger said.

As the best agriculture minister he has ever seen and worked with, Pottinger named a few famous names, including John P. Gyles, William Seiveright and Keble Munn, but finally settled on one: Isaac Barrant, a poorly educated Jamaica Labor Party member of Parliament for St. Thomas Eastern, who was known to have gotten along better than most with the average man when he was Jamaica’s Second Minister of Agriculture and Lands from 1950 to 1956.

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“Barrant listened to the farmers and connected with them in a way no one else could,” Pottinger said of the man who was one of the first elected members of the House of Representatives in the historic 1944 general election.

Originally working as a passenger on a truck, Barrant also worked on banana and sugar properties and served the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union as senior secretary in St. Thomas before entering electoral politics, serving under Chief Minister Alexander Bustamante.