By Kevon Browne
St Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Marine Resources, Alexis Jeffers highlighted six vulnerabilities the COVID-19 Pandemic has illuminated since the onset of its direct effect on the region.
1. The impact of climate change as evidenced by the long periods of drought and more aggressive hurricanes.
2. Country’s high level of indebtedness
3. High incidents of chronic diseases diabetes, High blood pressure, and various forms of cancer
4. Dependence on tourism
5. Food insecurity
6. Challenges faced with marketing difficulties
Jeffers also made reference to the fragility of the developing agricultural model for St. Kitts and Nevis. He indicated that the tourism sector accounts for almost 50% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while agriculture is 1.5%.
In his address on the September 15 broadcast of Leadership Matters, Jeffers focused on the unsustainable model that is the tourism industry and the import of goods into the country.
Jeffers said that it was clear tourism was the hardest hit as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and will be the slowest to recover. As such this has and will continue to negatively impact revenue streams, employment, lives and livelihood, and governance.
“This makes it imperative that as a government we must invest in the revitalization of the agricultural sector and link it to the tourism sector in order to gradually transform our economic development model.”
Jeffers describes now as an auspicious time to develop the agricultural product in order to produce more to lessen our dependability on the import of foreign produce. He said we should appreciate the contribution that the focus and revitalization of the agricultural sector can provide in terms of food security.
“We must also acknowledge that we now have an opportunity to produce more as to depend less on imports; revitalize our economy; create new jobs and businesses related to food production; as well as improving our value added products by replacing imported food with more nutritious local products.”
Although now represents an opportune time to revitalize the agriculture industry we must understand the evolutions the industry has gone through. Jeffers said that we have to let go of past practices and we must be cognizant of the fact solidifying the food systems as that would be paramount in a resilient recovery of the agriculture product.
“The haphazard approach of producing a lot of the same food items all at the same time cannot be the practice going forward. This approach has lead to a glut on the market which has lead to a reduction in prices and ultimately wastage of food. As such, innovation, resiliency, and sustainability must be our guiding principles if we are to achieve food security in the federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.”
As a part of the food systems securing open lines of communication, collaboration, and overall linkage between the farmers, the government, and its various ministries, our allied agencies, and our financial institutions. Jeffers proposed that these linkages would better establish quotas for food production and export potential aimed at decreasing the import of the agricultural products. Jeffers describes the imports as leakages within our market.
“These leakages are estimated at almost one billion dollars annually. This cannot be sustainable for a secured future.”
Jeffers hopes that through the established clearly defined quotas to be imposed on individual farmers the import of agricultural produce would decrease by incentivizing the meeting of the quotas in selected crops.
Jeffers went on to report on the data received from customs that between the years 2015 – 2019 18,683,783.976lbs of chicken was imported into the federation worth EC $62,841,934.71.
“It, therefore, means that an investment in the poultry industry more the establishment of a broiler industry will certainly create the enabling environment for growth in this particular industry. It will provide employment, it will therefore also provide a sustainable amount of fresh chicken available to our citizens here in the federation. Further, the ministry and department of agriculture on both St. Kitts and Nevis have been engaged over the past month and have compiled a proposal which will see the establishment of a broiler, slaughtering, and processing facility as well as a broiler hatchery.”
This represents an example of how the ministry and departments of agriculture are working to create a sustainable model for the production of locally produced good as well as their byproducts for local consumption and eventually export. Jeffers also reported that additionally, the development of a livestock work plan geared toward the insertion of locally produced pork, beef, and mutton goods to mirror the proposed poultry model.
“Our plan calls for a gradual rehabilitation of the Bayfords farm, which will see the development of swine breeding, cattle breeding, and also small ruminants.”
Jeffers went on to address one major challenge to the development of the agriculture industry and that is the availability of water. Water is paramount to the securing of any agricultural product and is seeking to secure water in this regard.
“We have been working with the Ministry of Communications and Works and our international partners to seek to combat this issue of water shortage and lack of water…”
Additional storage will be provided to farmers on St. Kitts in relation to the water collection systems to be put in place to evolve past the rainfed model that still exists on the island. Jeffers also went on to divulge a few other areas of focus for his ministry.
“Other areas of focus will be the trouble in land preparation issues, land allocation issues, livestock management issues, youth and women in agriculture and also entrepreneurship; we will address these in the upcoming months and years.”
However, to achieve these conceptualizations, Jeffers expressed that there must be a commitment to a plan of action and coordination, policy development, promoting commercialized farmers, and providing greater technical support through the extension divisions to farmers.
“The stagnancy that has marred the agricultural sector is being removed by a stream of strategically directed interventions for the enhancement and transformation of agriculture.”