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NDP CORNER: AGRICULTURE – AN IMPORTANT ECONOMIC SECTOR

“Farmers are not getting the support they are supposed to get. Agriculture in St. Vincent can earn millions, billions of dollars.” 

This was the opinion of a farmer as expressed during a recent I Witness News feature on praedial larceny. 

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As we have said before, the Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration has failed the farmers of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Since the ULP gained power, farmers have been experiencing serious problems: lack of markets, low prices for their produce, high cost of inputs, and praedial larceny.

Praedial larceny is a major, ongoing problem. 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 were employed to enforce ‘the law’ but that unit has since been dismantled. The New Democratic Party (NDP) is making it abundantly clear to the farmers:  We will adopt a zero-tolerance approach to praedial larceny.

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 has innovative and creative plans to develop the agricultural sector. We will ensure that agriculture once again plays a pivotal role in a diversified economy and in the process maximising its potential to earn foreign exchange, whether it be through the export of food items or raw materials that are required by 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.  This will ensure a sustainable and efficient food security system that is technologically driven and competitive.

Towards ensuring 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.

Livestock is also 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 production of livestock, particularly goats, sheep, pigs and cattle, by improving animal genetics and veterinary care.

We will also help our farmers to engage in organic farming, produce from which is known to fetch better prices.  A licencing system will record all those involved in organic farming and who would become the beacon of   healthy farming practices here.

Research by the US Department of Agriculture shows 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.

A Marketing Agency geared specifically towards assisting with  marketing and transporting farm produce. Readers will recall when we had the Marketing Corporation under the NDP government, farmers did not have any problems getting their produce sold. 

Further, we will make agricultural lands available. There has been an approach by the government that sees them take lands from farmers for purposes other than agriculture use.  We will address this matter. 

The vast areas of crown lands that have been abandoned will be documented and made available to persons interested in agriculture. These lands will be distributed through the Land Reform Programme. 

We will designate areas for small ruminants (goat, sheep and pigs) production and some for root crops. 

Teaching agriculture in schools is critical to the development of agriculture. We will re-introduce Agricultural Science in schools.

Also, we will provide the best possible technology and science into our development, as we ensure our farmers are getting good prices, we also want to ensure that the next generation has the opportunity to benefit. We also know the importance of looking after younger people who are considering a career in farming. 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. 

Our feeder roads are in deplorable condition. We will improve these roads to support agriculture. 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. 

Agriculture is an important economic sector. The major resource base of our country is its land, which has been traditionally devoted to the cultivation of crops, and rearing of livestock for local consumption, income generation and job creation. Our country is among the best disposed group of islands in the Caribbean for agriculture; it is endowed with an extraordinarily rich soil. Its tropical climate and abundant supply of clean water, is coupled with the skill and will of the farming people, thus making it ideal for year-round production of high quality agricultural products.

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