Recently there has been a call from Government for agriculture to assume a major role in the economic development of the Federation. How can this be achieved when there is a common belief that our productive sector, especially our young people, are not interested in agriculture because it is not easy, financially unrewarding and socially degrading.
During the 1970’s, sugar was still king, and Agriculture’s contribution to
GDP easily reached 20%. The sector employed over five thousand (5,000) low skilled workers and kept our soils fertile from year to year. Unfortunately the government of the day failed to see agriculture for its worth and the image of this noble profession was tarnished.
Ladies and gentlemen, it took the astute leadership of DOCTOR the RIGHT HONOURABLE Sir Kennedy Alphonse Simmonds our first Prime Minister, to revolutionize agriculture. The PAM introduced modern farming that showed greater productivity and prosperity. I recall leafing through PAM’s manifestos and learning how feeder roads were built in Wingfield, Old Road, Fahies and Saddlers to assist farmers.
The story goes on that a PAM led administration created the St. Kitts Nevis Development Bank through which farmers were able to access credit. Young graduates administered the agricultural sector. The success was enormous and we began exporting to Grenada, St. Maarten and further –a-field. The wheels were set in motion for us to be the bread basket of the Eastern Caribbean. Our hopes, dreams and aspirations of feeding ourselves and our neighbours seemed a reality.
However, the government of the day put agriculture on the back burner and all our eggs went into cruise tourism basket. Today we have moved from a sugar mono culture to a tourism monoculture, still no diversification and no food security for a people vulnerable to natural disasters like hurricanes and droughts. Our policy makers remain ignorant of the fact that “there can be no civilization without agriculture”.
Last year (2010) our food import bill stood at a whopping Ninety (90)
Million EC dollars and each year it is growing. Needless to say we are net importers of food although we are blessed with fertile soil and reliable rain fall. Whereas in the 1980’s we shipped to Dominica, now we have become one of their major markets because our lands are diverted away from meaningful agriculture to the hands of foreign speculators.
It is a headache to get land for farming; and may I remind you land alone will not bring success – The availability of water for irrigation, strategies to combat praedial larceny, pest and disease control and marketing are other important factors.
A major thrust must be foreign exchange savings through reduction of our mammoth food import bill. The country must employ new methodologies like shade house technology and efficient water and land use, to produce in abundance. Imagine the turn -around in our economy if we are able to have
EC $20 Million this year; shared among farmers – they would be smiling and payment of VAT would not be such a daunting task.
Agriculture must be able to empower the farmers where they can use their land as collateral to build a business, a home, or educate their children. Very importantly what we need is a way of attracting young talented entrepreneurs into agriculture as a viable business where they can take advantage of the latest available technology and market intelligence. This will result in more commercial farmers that are better able to address the many challenges facing the agricultural sector.
Finally, let us face reality, world prices for basic food is high and rising. The world population is growing fast including here in our
Federation so it is unwise to look externally for our security. We have the basic resources of fertile soil, water and intelligent people. Let us remove negative stigmas, dysfunctional Government and get to the job of nation building.
Ladies and gentlemen in closing I must remind you the time for action is now
Don’t just grow old……..grow food.
Note: Ms Latoya Bussue is the General Secretary of YOUNG PAMITES. The text of this commentary was delivered in a speech at the 46th Annual Convention of the People’s Action Movement on 3rd April, 2011.