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A new approach to agriculture

May 01,2017 - Last updated at May 01,2017

Farmers in Jordan resent the statistical conclusion which states that agriculture contributes only 3-3.5 per cent to Jordan’s annual gross domestic product.

The link between the sector’s importance and its share in the country’s annual output of goods and services is below expectation.

Agriculture’s contribution in the world’s major producers is not far off. Its share of GDP in the US is 1.3 per cent, in China 5 per cent and in the world at large 5.6 per cent.

Even in Australia, South Africa and Russia, the percentages range between 2 and 5.5 per cent.

Of course, Jordan’s agriculture is highly subsidised in water, export taxes, import duties on ingredients and inputs as well as imported labour. 

All these exemptions and subsidies erode the net value created by the sector.

What aggravates the situation even further is the fact that only 3-4 per cent of labourers in this sector are Jordanian.

The total agricultural exports in 2016 were worth only JD530 million, while imports exceeded JD2 billion.

The agricultural trade deficit is about JD2.3 billion if we include agricultural-related imports like insecticides, seeds and farming equipment.

Moreover, a look at the fruit and vegetable production reveals attention-grabbing results.

In 2015, for instance, Jordan produced more than 2 million tonnes of such produce, of which 870,000 were tomatoes and 250,000 cucumbers.

No wonder that tomatoes are such a headache in Jordan.

The Jordanian agricultural sector has made excellent strides; it adopted modern techniques and has taken Jordan to sufficiency in the levels of milk and dairy product production, chickens and eggs, dates and tradable new fruits (guavas, avocados, passion fruit and loquats). These trends should be encouraged.

On April 25, I spent half a day with Jordan University of Science and Technoloy students of agriculture on campus in Irbid. Their ingenious research showed hidden talents which await tapping and initialisation. 

We have large areas in Jordan which should be turned into grazing and sheep farming. 

We should be able to develop integrated lamb-based industries like meat producing and packing, wool and leather. These are all traditional industries that can be upgraded and corporatised, and their products exported.

The returns realised on such an industry can go a long way in offsetting our field crop deficit, such as wheat, rice, sugar and soya, which we mainly import.

With the rise in population, the need for these products will grow progressively to exceed in value, this year, our energy import bill.

Agriculture is a sector that, in a country like Jordan, can go up to 6 per cent of GDP.

It will be able to provide linkages that would foster the industry, transportation, trade, logistics and tourism sectors.

Moreover, it can provide tens of thousands of extra jobs for our youth.

Agriculture deserves a whole new approach and paradigm. It cannot continue as is. 

We have to use our technological edge and ability to excel to improve the marketability of our produce in new markets.

Tomatoes and cucumbers cannot create high value-added because they consume badly needed water, face frequent market closures and employ non-Jordanian labour.

 

 

The writer is a former Royal Court chief, deputy prime minister and member of Senate. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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