by Kevon Browne
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN) – The St. Kitts Consortium of Farmers met with and presented some initiatives to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture et al. Mr Miguel Flemming recently.
The consortium continues pushing for more investment in the Agriculture and Fisheries sectors, and their recent attempts included presenting a financial security initiative to help farmers secure funding from banking institutions to develop their businesses, duty-free concessions for parts for farming equipment and fuel and more.
“We propose that [a] sum of money be set aside, not for farmers and agribusiness persons to access directly but set aside as some form of collateral or security to help the bank to gain a bit of confidence that when farmers and agro-processors approach the enterprise that they can get loans of low interest, and that those loans can be revolving or be pre-approved. So we presented that idea, and we asked for his support and the support of the Ministry in advancing this kind of dialogue with us coordinating, in some [cases], facilitating the conversation with the bank in order to add the government’s take on it and make sure that we are on strong footing. That is something that he would have indicated that we would come back and discuss it a bit further in more detail and more pointedly, and that is something that we could all agree with,” – Meshach Alford during the July 19 broadcast of Farm Report on Island Tea.
Alford continued, “This is a kind of divergent from what has happened in the past in the sense of just putting out stimulus packages of 10 million, or 30 million and so on… you can’t see the effect of that kind of stimulus in the farming community or in St. Kitts as a whole in terms of infrastructure and all these things… you have a fund that is there and can be put in a trust or something of that mechanism, with a memorandum of understanding between all the different partners and flesh out that as we go.”
A representative from the consortium reported that there had been some traction on setting up a gas station in the Tabernacle area to give farmers easier access to fuel in that part of the country.
Alford also shared the consortium’s request for a Policy and Advisory Board for Agriculture, which he said would be a first and vital push toward allowing the people directly involved in agriculture to have a voice in implementing policies, regulations and initiatives concerning Agriculture and Fisheries.
“What we were proposing in the first instance, at least, there should be somebody for livestock, somebody for crops as a farmer from the farming community. You should also have some technical person in the field of agriculture, an expert of some kind—somebody, perhaps in finance or economics and fishing. We only had an agreement in principle in our meeting prior. We would have had to go and basically sit down on work or what would it really look like so that it can be presented maybe as a cabinet submission or something—that conversation was going well, but we have already said that the process is not going to happen overnight. So if it takes a year from now—two/three years from now, at least let us act in good faith… Now no one person or entity has all the answers to provide on this; while I might be proposing certain things, I don’t know the constraints on your end—at least, I don’t know them intimately. It is only in the meeting of minds can we really resolve some of these issues, and that’s what we’ve been calling for—let us meet.”
Alford said the current state of the Agriculture and Fisheries sectors is long past the need for consultation as he feels much is not materialised from consultations.
“Oftentimes in the media, you hear that we are consulting with the public, consulting with the members of the farming community to get their feedback and their comments. We are long past consultation. Consultation doesn’t [materialise] anything much for this community. [We’re]looking for participation, involvement in this process. That is why we are seeing the absolutely critical and necessary that farmers be part of the decision-making process or at least to have representation in that mechanism, and we want to be part of the design for that as well.”
One of the farmers representing the consortium during the Farm report shared his opinion on how the government had been approaching problems of the farming community.
“Agriculture in the past has always been the one where you go to a farmers’ meeting, and the question is always asked what are your problems? If the monkey is the problem and I give you a pack of seeds, all you’re going to do is plant more food for the monkey to eat, so there was no real solution to the issue. It was just, you know, sweeping the issues under the mat and hoping that you would forget it. It is almost like I’m buying you to just be quiet. And so we could adapt that whole concept, but what we are saying as a consortium—we want to move away from that. We are trying to create that partnership where we can create a platform—that foundation to catapult agriculture into the future so that the generations to come [are] not going to have this conversation.”
He went on to explain the need for the culture shift in Agriculture not just be a phrase used in speeches but should be actively enacted for the sake of future generations.
“The generations to come [are] supposed to be about incorporating technology into agriculture—having drones; discussing how we could incorporate drones to fly over your crop, identify the areas in the field where you have weaknesses, nitrogen deficiency, potassium deficiency— treat your plants using that, not coming back to here. So our goal is really to create that partnership where we can build out the infrastructure where agriculture can be a viable business. So we will have generations coming who will be inspired and have that aspiration to become a farmer.”
Minister of Agriculture et al. Hon. Samal Duggins, in a previous Prime Minister’s Press Conference, stated that a strategic plan to illustrate the government’s path toward bolstering Agriculture and Fisheries in the Federation would be rolled out in July; however, that plan has not been shared with the public as yet.
As countries in the region continue to strive for sustainable status, nutrition security is one of the pillars determining a country’s sustainability – its ability to nourish its people. Without proper investment in Agriculture, Agro-processing and Fisheries, achieving the status of a sustainable island state may not be possible.