“Grow What We Eat, Eat What We Grow”


Across the Caribbean, food imports have become an expensive problem, prompting Jamaica, one of the world’s most fertile regions, to reclaim its agricultural past. Imports roughly doubled in price over the past decade. To combat the rising cost, rather than turning to big agribusinesses, officials recruited everyone they could to support their bold new strategy: make farming patriotic and abundant, behind homes, hospitals, schools, even prisons. In Jamaica, Haiti, the Bahamas and elsewhere, local farm-to-table production isn’t simply a sales pitch, it is a government motto.

Still, farming is often seen as a reminder of plantations and slavery in these regions, it’s a deep challenge. Yet at regional meetings for years, it has be emphasized by Caribbean officials that “food security,” primarily its availability and access, is at top priority. A number of countries are responding by branding foreign food like meats and high-calorie snacks a threat, and locally grown food responsible and smart. Jamaica started earlier than most. About a decade ago, the government unveiled a national food security campaign whose slogan is “Grow What We Eat, Eat What We Grow.” Grocery stores now market local produce with large stickers and noticeable displays.

As a result they even have an “Eat Jamaican Day” This past year in November of 2015 they were happy to note that their food import bill which declined by some 4.5% in 2014, is continuing along that trend in 2015. Even in the wake of droughts and bush fires, the agricultural sector grew by some 3.3%, thus contributing to the overall 1.5% growth in the economy. The agricultural sector continues to be a critical source of employment and income generation and foreign exchange earnings, as well as rural and national development. Eat Jamaican fittingly and concisely captures the Ministry of Agricultures’ desire to continuously enhance and expand agricultural production to ensure food security and food safety for all Jamaicans, as well as utilizing the sector to grow the Jamaican economy and so increase the welfare and prosperity of Jamaican people.

The spread of local knowledge plays a huge part in this. Local knowledge compiles complex bodies of know-how. It is practices and skills that are developed and sustained by peoples/communities with shared histories and experiences. This knowledge provides a framework for decision-making in a number of social, economic and environmental activities and livelihoods among rural peoples. In Jamaica, as elsewhere, such knowledge has been shaped and modified by continuous farm level experimentation over many generations. Local knowledge, and its associated skills, has been developed outside the formal educational system and is embedded in culture and steeped in tradition. The Jamaica 4-H has been active in the spread of local knowledge and youth are a vital aspect of in it. Young people are contributing significantly to the transformation of agriculture in Jamaica and have begun to make a significant impact on the way business is conducted in the sector.

In 2015 Jamaica faced one of the most devastating droughts in their recent history. Despite that, the agricultural sector, though slow, continued to record growth. Andre Anderson, Jamaica 4-H Clubs National Centre Coordinator, attributes this to the fact that, “we have a younger and more brilliant set of farmers, people who are proud to tell you that they are farmers, because no longer is agriculture something to scoff at or turn up their nose at,”

Many of Jamaica’s current young farmers participated in their 4-H club, and due to the training members undergo, they enter the field knowledgeable on how to manage their operations, in particular soil conservation and parasite management. The impact of the Jamaica 4-H has already had impressive reach into the agriculture sector because, contrary to our belief, the average age of  Jamaican farmers is 37 years, which is 23 years lower than the previous 60 year average.

Anderson further challenged the nation’s young people “to continue to re-energize the Jamaican spirit of resilience, hard work and passion, genuine love for each other and unflinching faith for a better and brighter tomorrow.”

Jamaica serves as an outstanding example of the things a country can accomplish through unity and shared interest. Still, some questions arise such as: How practical/ wise is it for Jamaican’s to reduce their food imports? Is there some type of livelihood protection for Jamaican Farmers? Can Jamaica’s strategy be implement/or work elsewhere?





Work Cited:

Davidson, Andrine. “Youth Impact on Agriculture Highlighted.” Jis.gov.jm. Jamaican Information Service, 13 Mar. 2016. Web. <http://jis.gov.jm/youth-impact-agriculture-highlighted/>.


Beckford, Clinton, and David Barker. “The Role and Value of Local Knowledge in Jamaican Agriculture: Adaptation and Change in Small-scale Farming.” The Geographical Journal 173.2 (2007): 118-28. Researchgate.com. June 2007. Web. <https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Clinton_Beckford/publication/227625010_The_role_and_value_of_local_knowledge_in_Jamaican_agriculture_adaptation_and_change_in_smallscale_farming/links/544ac4e20cf2bcc9b1d31ba1.pdf>.


Cave, Damien. “As Cost of Importing Food Soars, Jamaica Turns to the Earth.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 Aug. 2013. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/04/world/americas/as-cost-of-importing-food-soars-jamaica-turns-to-the-earth.html?_r=0>.

“Government of Jamaica: Growth Agenda Policy Paper.” (n.d.): n. pag. Http://jamaicachamber.org.jm/. Jamaica Chamber, Mar. 2015. Web. <http://jamaicachamber.org.jm/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Growth-Agenda-Policy-Paper.pdf>.

Kellier, Derrick. “The Eat Jamaican Day Expo.” Moa.gov.jm. Ministry of Agriculture, 25 Nov. 2015. Web. <http://moa.gov.jm/Speeches/2015/20151125_The%20Eat%20Jamaican%20Day%20Expo.php>.

2 thoughts on ““Grow What We Eat, Eat What We Grow””

  1. I love the conversation on localizing food production. Especially in a place like Jamaica, where the land is so fertile, autonomy in food production can lead to the country breaking even more of the unfair economic agreements that they have with the First World. I also would like to note that this process is far better for the environment and healthier than any form of industrial agriculture, which is just as much a reason as generating a self-sufficient economy.

  2. Wow, interesting post! I loved reading about development enacted by the people being effected. Jamaica seems to be challenging the structure of the world food system. What measures do you think the United States could take to promote a similar concept?

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