(Excerpts of the Hon. Roland ‘Patel’ Matthews’ presentation at a virtual Meeting)
Now is the time for the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) plan to create jobs, bring in new investment, and create opportunities for our young people so they can get ahead here in St Vincent and the Grenadines. One of the key points in our plan, is to grow and support our fishing and agricultural sectors. It is important because it is a big part of our economy, and we have many skilled farmers and fisherfolk who have been let down.
The Unity Labour Party (ULP) has no vision for our farmers. Do you know that we have not had an agricultural census in over 20 years? This means they cannot even take stock of where our farmers are, what they are growing, how they can help them to improve their yields or even what land is available. It is wilful blindness!
The ULP also expects farmers to be all things: to plant their crops and raise their animals, to tend and care for them, to harvest, transport, market and sell them. In 2015, they promised to implement a Banana Production Plan. They promised to implement legislation to improve the situation of praedial larceny and to strengthen the penalties for persons caught stealing agricultural produce. Neither of these have been delivered. The ULP complacency stops our green and blue economy from growing and creating jobs for our people. They have taken our agriculture and fisheries for granted and failed to deliver on their promises to support these crucial industries time and time again.
Plan for our farmers and fisherfolk
We in the NDP know central role of agriculture and fishing to the economy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and its contribution to the livelihood and well-being of Vincentians throughout successive generations. We need to nurture these vital industries to unleash potential, grow our economy and create jobs.
That’s why as part of our plan, we will help our farmers and fisherfolk with the financing of new equipment they need to succeed. We won’t dictate to them that you need this or that. We will work with them through our Development Bank as partners in their enterprises, to help them get ahead. This means if you are a fisherman who needs a better boat, so you can go out to catch tuna or other high value fish, we have a plan to help you.
You only have to look to our neighbours in Grenada to see how this can provide real income and create real jobs for our people. And it does not just mean jobs for our fisherfolk or on the deck: it means jobs in processing the fish, in marketing and transporting them, in repairing and maintaining the boats in the fleet. It means more money in our local businesses. All it takes is the will and the investment to make it happen, and that is what we will do.
For our farmers, it means new equipment that is suitable for our steep hills. That can help you to prepare your fields and harvest your crops or transport your stock. That increases your efficacy and reduces the amount of manual labour. How can we expect our young people to join these industries if we are not up to the cutting edge of technology and cutting down on the work in the hot sun where we can?
We also will help our farmers to get better prices with organic farming to enable St. Vincent and the Grenadines to become synonymous with healthy farming practices. Do you know that the US Department of Agriculture research shows that the price premium for processed organic products ranges from 22 percent to 54 percent? I want to see our famers getting the best possible prices, and this is just one way we plan to help.
We will also re-introduce marketing boards so our farmers can be farmers. Some of you will not remember when we had proper marketing boards under the NDP, so that our farmers could be farmers – focussing on what they do so well. We will bring them back. It means that marketing your produce, getting the best possible price, and transport is taken care of. And, in a co-operative model, it can ensure that our farmers keep more of the proceeds – meaning money in their pockets.
Our plan will also re-introduce an enhanced agricultural and manufacturing exhibition. This is something that you see all over the world in the great farming nations. We can all learn from each other to improve what we are doing and see what is available on the cutting edge.
There has been a ‘willy nilly’ approach from the government that sees them take lands from farmers for purposes other than agriculture, and we will address this as a matter of urgency. Many available crown lands that have been left abandoned must be documented and made available to persons interested in agriculture.
Our plan means that agricultural lands will be made available to farmers through the Land Reform Programme. We will designate areas for small ruminants (goat, sheep and pigs) production and some for root crops to generate national food security.
We will create a land bank with landowners locally and abroad of un-utilized and under-utilized lands, to bring them into productive use, while respecting the rights of property owners. The NDP will also complete its work on land reform in the Mt. Bentick, Langley and Orange Hill areas by making it possible for all who occupy farmlands to be given the opportunity to obtain titles to their lands.
A process to grant titles to farmers will give them certainty over their future, aid in giving them more collateral to invest in their enterprise going forward. We must create jobs in this country. We must create opportunity. We must get St. Vincent and the Grenadines working.