Our Readers' Opinions
January 13, 2006
Agriculture under the microscope

EDITOR: Whenever we travel around SVG, visit the Central Market and various Supermarkets Hotels and Restaurants the impact of a vibrant Agricultural Sector should be glaring. The Agricultural Sector poses vast potential for the improvement of lives in Rural Communities and still is a source of foreign exchange.

There are several deficiencies which affect the success of Agriculture in SVG: (1) Poor Agricultural Facilities, particularly at Dumbarton, Three Rivers, Enhams and Camden Park. {{more}} Maybe it would be fair to say the Agricultural Facilities at these locations represent the state of Agriculture in SVG. These facilities need up grading. The nurseries do not supply the types and quantities of seedlings required by farmers. The palletization centres at Langley Park and La Croix need not be white elephants, functioning only on banana days.

(2)There is room for further development of the Livestock and Poultry Industry. The Hatchery, Cassava Factory and the Coconut Water Plant do not represent major success for Agriculture. These are just a start. There is need for Pilot Poultry Projects in the various Extension Regions. Last Christmas, the price of eggs increased by almost 67%. We still import vast quantities of chicken. The hatchery must influence those two areas. We must see a reduction in chicken imports and lower prices for chicken. The cost of production must be such that it becomes profitable to produce, yet provide cheaper prices to consumers. There is the Cassava Factory but no visible increase in cassava cultivation. We need to have target markets for vacuum pack root crops and vegetables. Farmers should be contracted to produce these crops.

(3)The lack of a fully functioning Market Division.

The market forces of supply and demand do not motivate farmers, sufficiently for them to produce at the required quality and quantity. Farmers do not have the confidence to produce for regional and international markets. This is evident by the quantity of vegetables imported from Trinidad and the USA. Competent people must resolve issues of price, storage and handling, transportation, market intelligence etc. These issues will help to develop the capacity of farmers to produce.

(4)The different components involved in agriculture do not mesh in any meaningful way. Diversification and Irrigation Unit, National Properties, Agricultural Input Warehouse, BGA and WIBDECO, Extension and Communication Unit Research (CARDI) and WINFA. I am aware that WIBDECO has been selling dry coconuts to Europe for quite some time now, but none from SVG. WINFA seems to be alienated and functions as a Lone Ranger.

National Properties and Input Warehouse is involved significantly in Agriculture but the reporting relationship does not lead to the Ministry of Agriculture. The Farmers Market at Diamond is slowly fading away. I always believe Victor Hadley would have been an asset to the Marketing Corporation in its original format. Subject to correction, the Chairman of the Agricultural Input Warehouse is the Director General of Finance and Planning. Agricultural Input Warehouse and the Produce Department could merge for even greater efficiency. Additionally a Marketing Division with competent staff could complete one entity. The existing Housing Programme will affect the availability of arable lands. People need both housing and food so there must be a balance. We must see the impact of irrigation on fruits and vegetables and root crops.

(5) The technical department of the Ministry needs refocus. Some people in one position for too long! Extension Services and Communication Unit have the responsibility to ensure that farmers develop the capacity to produce sufficiently for the market. The Ministry has the benefit of a well-trained technical staff, which has not been motivated to reach full potential. We must take full advantage of a well-trained technical staff. It seems to me that the staff is yearning to take on any challenge.

(6) There is lack of interest in Agri-processing. Moreover, it is frustrating for those who enter, due to limited market research. Agriculture is the basis for an underdeveloped Agri-processing sector, which needs urgent focus. A government agency must jump start this area because the private sector is unwilling to make the necessary investment. It is much more attractive and easier to buy and sell imported goods. With increasing investments in tourism, Agri-processing is of paramount importance. The CED, NDF along with NCB’s Micro Loan Scheme needs to show a focused approach to Agri-processing.

Agriculture must undergo tangible, if not radical changes so that SVG will realize maximum benefits.