The Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration has neglected the agricultural sector and broken many of their promises. They have taken them for granted and have failed to deliver on their promises to support this critical industry. The New Democratic Party (NDP) has a clear vision to revitalize the agricultural sector.
The government’s neglect and mismanagement of the agricultural sector coupled with the imposition of ill-advised policies, such as terminating the banana credit system, and failure to expand the established banana facilities overseas to support national diversification efforts have caused hundreds of farmers to abandon the agricultural sector. They have abandoned their farms and have to seek employment elsewhere mainly as security guards. The hard working farmers have felt the full weight of the ULP government.
Agriculture once contributed over twenty percent of the Gross Domestic Product; now it is less than three percent. Our balance of trade in agriculture is the worst it has ever been since conquest and settlement. While many key crops are in decline, many farms that were once productive are now unproductive. There has not been an agriculture census for over twenty years. The ULP government does not know where our farmers are, what they are growing, how they can help them improve their yields, or even what land is available.
Also, the government received over $37 million from the European Union to assist in the diversification of agriculture after the removal of preferential treatment of bananas. The projects are still incomplete and are yet to help farmers. And, the administration has promised to implement legislation to improve the situation of praedial larceny and to strengthen the penalties for persons caught stealing agricultural produce. To date these have not been implemented.
The ULP government expects farmers to be all things, to raise their animals, to tend and care for them, and to plant their crops to harvest, transport, and market them. Farmers continue to complain about the lack of markets and the low price for agricultural produce.Think about this, one sack of manure costs $95 while a sack of dasheen is sold for $40.For the government to announce at this time, over twenty years in power, that they are considering the reintroduction of the marketing board to market farmers’ produce is mindboggling. It is crystal clear that the government does not have a vision for agriculture.
Plans for the agricultural sector
The NDP will reverse this deteriorating situation by revitalizing the agricultural sector, making it efficient, technologically prepared and internationally competitive. This will guarantee the food and nutrition security of our people and at the same time provide employment, income and sustainable livelihoods, while preserving the environment for present and future generations.
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. This will ensure a sustainable and efficient food security system that is technologically driven competitive.
The NDP will reintroduce the Credit System, making it available to all stakeholders in the Agro Sector. Proper guidelines will be instituted to ensure the system is run effectively to the benefit of all stakeholders.
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.
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.
Sustainable organic farming will be considered. The NDP 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.
We will establish a state operated agro lab that will encourage agro processing. The agro lab will also assist small business enterprises especially those cottage industries that produce such items as pepper sauce, jams and jellies etc.
Praedial larceny is a major, ongoing concern. It appears 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.
We all are cognizant of the importance 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; encourage household/kitchen gardening; provide subsidies for local Agro-producers, processors and marketers; ensure effective land distribution and utilization and reduce dependency on imports.
We know the importance of feeder roads to our farmers’ productivity and to access markets. We will upgrade existing roads across our farming communities and build new feeder roads to access more lands. The multiplier effects of feeder roads can never be overstated as access to and from the farm is of paramount importance.We cannot support our farmers if we cannot reach them, or they cannot get their goods easily to market.The NDP is committed to the development of the agricultural sector in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.