New Democratic Party weekly column 23/4 /2020

COVID- 19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of the economy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It is obvious that the Unity Labour Party (ULP) regime has mismanaged the economy. It has failed to diversify the economy. It has failed to develop the productive sectors. Had the ULP administration placed more emphasis into the agricultural sector; St. Vincent and the Grenadines would have been performing better economically during this crisis. 

Over the past fifteen years, the economy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been hinged mainly around the tourism industry. COVID- 19 has negatively affected the tourism industry. As a result, the government revenue is affected and hundreds of Vincentians who are employed directly and indirectly in the tourism industry have lost their jobs, therefore creating enormous hardship for them and their families.

A strong agricultural based economy would have been ideal during this time of crisis. The ULP regime has missed a golden opportunity to maximize the export of agricultural produce to regional markets. It is amazing at this time, to hear the Minister of Agriculture and other spokesperson for the government speak about the importance of agriculture and food security, terms that Vincentians have not heard from this government since it has been in power. Instead, we have heard from the spokespersons for the government that agriculture is a thing of the past and having a profession was better than being a farmer, a total disregard to the importance of agriculture and disrespect to the hardworking farmers.

During this period, it is important that the ULP government find innovative ways to support our farmers to continuing to produce and marketing agricultural produce, support small and medium agribusiness, and assess the impact of COVID- 19 on agricultural based livelihoods and food security.

The NDP will ensure that agriculture once again plays a pivotal role in diversifying the economy of this country. Through this process, we will reduce inequality by increasing income and creating jobs. It is also a mechanism that will utilize our natural resources to earn foreign exchange and produce raw materials that are required by other industries.

The overall goal of the NDP’s National Agricultural Policy will be to optimize and maximize our capacity to provide for our food needs. This will be done through increasing production of a range of crops and livestock species as well as fish and related by-products, thus ensuring a sustainable food security system for all, thus making it efficient, technologically prepared and internationally competitive.

To assist in achieving our goal of food security, we will concentrate on the following: focus on ecological conservation and the use of bio-diversity; increase production to satisfy domestic consumption; place emphasis on relevant infrastructure development; conduct appropriate research and development programmes; encouraging household/kitchen gardening; provide subsidies for local Agro-producers, processors and marketers; ensure effective land distribution and utilization and reduce dependency on imports.

Further, livestock is a key part of farming in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. A substantive amount of root crop, vegetable and tree crop farmers own livestock. The NDP will support efforts to improve the health and productivity of livestock, particularly chickens, goats, sheep, pigs and cattle; by improving animal genetics and veterinary care.

We will introduce a land use policy that will give better directions for land usage as we try to make maximum benefit from the limited lands available to us for food production and other use. Crop identification policy will be implemented, after careful marketing analysis, identify specific crops for development. This will give farmers and other stakeholders a better understanding and direction in determining which crops to plant as well as the geographical suitability of the area to cultivate such crops.

The use of chemicals has been a concern for Vincentians. While it was commonplace to use chemicals indiscriminately for food production, it is now time for a new approach to farming with less chemical dependency. A registry of chemicals used in St. Vincent and the Grenadines will be created and a concerted effort will be made by government to gradually decrease the use of toxins in food production. As a result, special attention will be paid to sustainable organic farming. We will encourage farmers to ensure that their methods of cultivation are not harmful to the environment. Tax and Custom Duty concessions will be made available to organic farmers.

Also, to revitalize the agricultural sector and achieve our goals, we will implement policies that will assist and benefit farmers immensely. The NDP will reintroduce the credit system.  Proper guidelines will be instituted to ensure the system is managed effectively to the benefit of all stakeholders. And seek market for farm produce and work along with the traffickers in the industry.

Praedial larceny is a major concern. For many years, farmers have been complaining about the negative effects of praedial larceny. It would appear that the ULP government is clueless as to how to solve the problem. Legislation has been enacted by the government but has failed to achieve the desired result. Rural constables have been employed but that unit has since been dismantled. The NDP is making it abundantly clear to the farmers that we will adopt a Zero-tolerance approach to praedial larceny. 

The NDP will also facilitate and support local production and marketing processes that will advance the country’s agriculture. Support will be given in the areas of: technology generation, technology development and technology transfer for both production and marketing. The construction of feeder roads, bridges, and other infrastructure to advance the agricultural production and marketing system will be done. And the provision of incentives to the production and marketing sectors, while respecting global international rules will be given.

The NDP has a clear vision and a strategic plan to achieve its goal in agricultural development in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  We are committed to revive the agricultural sector and making St. Vincent and the Grenadines work for all Vincentians.