With the passage of the Appropriation Bill 2022 in Parliament on Friday January 14, 2022 the apparatus of government was set in train to begin the implementation of a number of initiatives necessary to put this country back on a path to sustainable development.
The challenges of the last 2 years, especially those brought on by the impacts of the eruption of La Soufrière, rendered the need to pass the bill urgent so that Vincentians who are dependent on support from government were not put in a worsened situation. This week, the focus of this article is an excerpt from the budget address of the Hon Camillo Gonsalves, Minister of Finance, where he addressed the sectors of agriculture, forestry and fisheries outlining the government’s plans to rejuvenate those sectors after 2 years of severe battering by the disasters. For completeness, all are encouraged to read the full document that’s available online, however in the interim, this column would publish excerpts of the address over the next few weeks, highlighting specific sectors and the plans of the government for each. Below is the selected excerpt from the address under the heading “Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
“We begin, as always, with agriculture. From an agricultural standpoint, the blessing and the curse of La Soufrière is that its periodic deposits are partially responsible for our unusually rich and fertile soil. However, its eruptions also destroy agricultural production in the short-term. The Red and Orange Zones of highest volcano hazard coincide with the heart of our agricultural belt. This year, our farmers and fishers felt the full brunt of La Soufrière’s fury. According to preliminary UNDP estimates, the eruptions damaged over 4,200 acres of productive agricultural land, displaced 2,875 registered farmers and 308 fisherfolk, and caused a massive $230 million in loss and damage to the agricultural sector. Over one-third of the total preliminary estimates of loss and damage from the volcano was borne by our agriculture sector. It is a devastating blow. The need for budgetary interventions to support affected farmers and fishers is self-evident. So too is the urgency of fresh initiatives to build productive capacity, emphasise areas of the highest growth potential, and attract additional entrepreneurial activity to the sector. Budget 2022 rises to the urgent challenge of the moment, and reminds our hardworking farmers and fishers, once again, that this Government considers you to be the enduring cornerstone of our future development.
The previous discussion of the Blue Economy has sufficiently outlined our fresh initiatives in fishing fleet expansion, training, technology, production support, and the repair or construction of new fishing facilities. As evidenced by Budget 2022’s heavy investments in the sector, our belief in the transformative potential of fisheries in this post-COVID, post-volcano economy cannot be overstated…”
“Budget 2022 signals the post-eruption start of what will be a multiyear effort to rehabilitate our forests. A fresh initiative, called the “Forest Restoration and Protection” project, allocates $2.5 million over the next three years to analyse and replenish our tree cover. The first $500,000 of that project is scheduled to be spent in 2022. A three-year, $1.6 million Forestry Enhancement Project was slated to begin in 2021, but was derailed by the volcanic eruptions. Budget 2022 allocates monies from that project to purchase drones and upgrade computer systems that will help to map the damaged forest, and properly plan its restoration. Within the VEEP, an additional $3 million will be spent to properly equip forestry officials, assess forest biodiversity and restore watershed areas.
Further, Prime Minister Gonsalves has held fruitful discussions with the Government of Colombia, which has recently-announced its own ambitious reforestation to protect their incredible biodiversity. The Colombian Government has kindly agreed to assist our own reforestation efforts. Concurrently, Minister Caesar has pursued similar efforts with friendly European Governments and private sector entities; details are to be hammered out. These initiatives represent an unprecedented Government-led effort to repopulate our scorched mountains and watersheds. The $7 million budgeted over the next three years on forestry is a drop in the bucket compared to the loss and damage inflicted by the volcano, but Mother Nature has an incredible capacity to heal herself.
The volcano’s impact on our biodiversity has been vast, but is currently unassessed. Let us take a moment here, Madame Speaker to acknowledge Honourable Minister Saboto Caesar, whose decision to relocate a small number of our Vincentian Parrots to an overseas aviary for precisely this eventuality has now proven prescient. In the wake of the eruptions, and in addition to the money being spent to restore forests and watersheds, we must give nature the space and time to complete its recovery. As such, the Government has accepted the passionate argument of Minister Caesar that we must allow for an ecological reset in Saint Vincent that involves a temporary ban on the hunting of wild meat.
We take seriously our duty to restore and preserve our forest and mountain ecosystems. The Government, through regulation, investment and international cooperation, will do what it can to speed up the restoration, in the interest of our biodiversity, our climate and our farmers.
Just as an economic recovery is impossible without first confronting COVID, our developmental aspirations are similarly futile unless they are built on the solid foundation of a vibrant, diverse and fully-recovered agricultural sector. Our farmers, fishers and forest have probably never faced challenges of a similar magnitude as the ones we have confronted over the last two years. Yet, through it all: through drought, through pandemic, through hurricane, and through volcanic eruption, this Government has stood with you. In ways large and small, tangible and intangible, we have supported you during the rough times, and invested in your recovery. Budget 2022 continues that pattern of support and solidarity. We will never stop believing in the transformative power of our farmers and fisherfolk”.