As a young man from rural Jamaica — St Elizabeth to be precise — where we have a lot of unoccupied land, I decided to get involved in agriculture because I see where it could be very lucrative if I had the market for my produce. So I formed a connection with a few hotels and was supplying them with squash and zucchini.
I purchased some seeds from a reputable company overseas and I got it into the country without any problem. The money I made from it was used to expand my business, so I invested in more seeds. I purchased four more packs of seeds from overseas (US$300 per pack) and when I tried to get the seeds in the country, they were confiscated by the Customs Department. They told me all I have to do is to go to the agriculture ministry for a permit that cost $6,000 and return to get the seeds.
I went to the agriculture ministry for the permit and they were very reluctant to give it to me. I tried to persuade them for about two months to allow me the permit. I even spoke to ministry officials about my problem. I lost over $60,000 trying to retrieve my seeds, and all my efforts proved futile.After desperately trying with no success to get the permit to collect my seeds, they started telling me the seeds needed to be inspected to ensure that they were not diseased as that might be detrimental to the environment.
I had to send the seeds back overseas to be inspected, even though we have a quarantine department in Jamaica that, I am sure, is capable of inspecting the seeds. Returning the seeds to get them inspected was the only option they gave me.
I made arrangements for someone overseas to come and get the seeds out of the country, and when the person came for the seeds I was faced with yet another problem. I was contacted by someone from Customs Department telling me that in order to give the approval for the seeds to leave the country, it would cost me $50,000.
It’s not a case where I was arrogant in my attempts to get the seeds in the country, neither did I have any intentions of disobeying or trying to disregard the law. I had no intentions to try to beat the system, as they would say. So I don’t know why I am being so treated. Why is someone with power insisting on making this hard for me?
I used to be able to motivate and persuade other youth in my community to be productive and occupy their time doing something positive — even getting involved in agriculture. How am I to continue doing that now?
The nation needs to know there are youth who are really trying, but are not getting the assistance needed, just being stonewalled.
by Valmore Smith