At the recently held Hope Rally in Georgetown by the New Democratic Party (NDP), President of the NDP, Honourable Dr. Godwin Friday, unveiled four (4) pillars of economic development that his party will implement to revive the economy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. They are agriculture, the blue economy, tourism and the new economy.
Since the rally, Dr. Friday and his team visited stakeholders in the agriculture industry and held discussions with them. From discussions and observations, it is obvious that the Unity Labour Party (ULP) government is only paying lip service to the agricultural sector. Moreover, the ill-advised policies of the government have forced many established farmers out of agriculture, and vast areas of formerly highly productive land are now abandoned. The decline in agriculture has created severe hardship for thousands of Vincentians.
There is also a significant decrease to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from agriculture. It would appear that the government does not have a strategic plan to develop this vital industry. For instance, the government has failed to effectively implement the Banana Accompanying Measures (BAM) program. The European Union donated $37 million to assist in the diversification of agriculture. What does the country have to show from that program? Where is the abattoir? Where are the green houses? Part of the BAM funding was to install green houses to increase production. Surprisingly in a recent online publication, the Minister of Agriculture stated that the government would receive funding from the World Bank to establish green houses. But, there should have been functioning green houses in the country.
As agricultural production declined, our food imports have skyrocketed, worsening our balance of trade position. After twenty-two (22) years in power, the ULP government is now thinking about a strategy to reduce our food import bill. The Minister of Agriculture is quoted in an online source that St. Vincent and the Grenadines has pledged to decrease its food import bill by 25% by 2025. Is there any evidence in the programs and policies of the government in that direction?
The NDP has an exciting and impressive plan for the development of agriculture as an important pillar of economic development. The NDP will reverse the deteriorating situation in agriculture by revitalizing the 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. This will ensure a sustainable and efficient food security system that is technologically driven.
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. Sustainable organic farming will be considered. The NDP will encourage farmers to ensure that their methods of cultivation are not harmful to the environment. Also, research has shown that the premium price for processed organic products ranges from 22 percent to 54 percent higher than produce of traditional farming practices. We want to see our famers get the best possible prices, and this is just one way we plan to do so. Tax and Custom Duty concessions will be made available to organic farmers.
We will also 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.
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 program; encourage household/kitchen gardening; provide subsidies for local agro-producers, processors and marketers; ensure effective land distribution and utilization which will reduce dependency on imports.
Feeder roads are essential to improve 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. And, establish a marketing agency to assist in the marketing of farm produce.
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. And, the construction a factory to utilize our fruits is critical to the development of the sector.
Our zero-tolerance approach to combat praedial larceny will include a system where special hearings will be held to deal swiftly with crimes of praedial larceny. We will also ensure that a system is in place to compensate farmers for their losses, within a reasonable time.
The NDP is committed to resuscitate the agricultural sector as an important pillar of economic development in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Agriculture is a key pillar, which will build the economy and create more and better-paid jobs for the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.