June 16, 2006
Daniel not giving up on agriculture

Montgomery Daniel, this country’s Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister is not giving up on agriculture. He made his position clear last Tuesday morning at the opening of a four-day Workshop on Agriculture, Trade Policy and Development in the Caribbean.

Daniel expressed hope that produce from the land would still be a source of wealth for this nation.{{more}}

“I am very optimistic that there is a future for agriculture,” he disclosed.

The North Windward representative noted that “this will require new vision, new creativity, and new initiative.”

He wants “producers, agro-processors, traders and policy makers with that intellectual capacity, with that will, with that determination and commitment to make the difference.” Daniel, who retained his seat in North Windward in the December 7, 2005 poll, suggested that supporting institutions including financial institutions would have to have a different mindset towards investment in agriculture. He also contended that the infrastructural support services will have to be more conducive to agricultural production.

Exhibiting a somewhat regional outlook, Daniel endorsed the initiative by Guyanese Prime Minister Bharat Jagdeo, which called for greater emphasis on agriculture.

Daniel noted that “food security should be our number one priority while we put measures in place to reduce the spiraling regional food import bill, in excess of US$1billion.”

As far as the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister was concerned: “We have to get our priorities right. We cannot afford to follow the logic of our detractors who suggest that our emphasis should be on tourism and not agriculture. This logic if only followed would sink us further into a high food deficit, increasing our vulnerability.”

He would like to see agriculture developed alongside tourism with all its fringe linkages.

Daniel used the occasion to highlight the situation in the banana industry, but for him, the outlook seemed dismal.

Falling prices, in conjunction with deteriorating conditions affecting the fruit were combining to wreck the fragile banana industry.

The impact was not only on bananas, but also on sugar in the region.

Daniel noted that those factors were contributing to declining standards of living.

Barbara Graham, Sub-Regional representative for the Caribbean Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations was happy that the Workshop was held here, as SVG was diversifying its agriculture and the multi-island nation was “exploring the benefits of public/private sector partnerships in agricultural diversification with some measure of success.”

Graham harped on the tough measures wrought on regional economies as a result of changes in the European Union market.

She underlined the importance of diversification, but outlined that “the policies and measures need to be implemented if we are to arrest or reverse the likelihood of increased rural unemployment, rural instability, and rural/urban migration.”

Graham emphasised the impact of shocks in the agriculture markets and noted that “they are first felt by small farmers and rural people.”

She perhaps previewed Minister’s Daniel’s concern about the decline of agriculture. She noted that small farmers and other food producers were the vehicles for sustained food production and food security.

She stressed the need for diversification to new products, which she predicted, would help to maintain “the broader economic and social benefits formerly derived from traditional agricultural exports.”

Nigel Durrant, Senior Economist from the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery, echoed the delicate situation as far as agriculture was concerned.

He pointed out that “agriculture was at the cross roads.”

Durrant hoped that something positive could emerge from the Workshop so as to make production competitive. He wanted an assurance that any impediments to achieving reasonable incomes be overcome. He hoped for recommendations from the workshop that would change lives in the region.

The workshop ended yesterday Thursday having heard presentations from regional and international bodies including FAO representatives.