Round Table with Oscar
September 20, 2016

Talking agriculture today – Part 1

It is time to get serious with agriculture. Time to stop the piffle and waffle and chatter about one-off developments, devoid of programme and policy.

Time to put in place a survey and consultations to develop an upgraded farmers’ corporate umbrella organization to fill the space of the run-down Banana Growers’ Association. It is time for us farmers to reaffirm our respect for ourselves and call on our society to respect us as a class. Time for talk leading to action.{{more}}

The last person I heard lead a serious discussion about agriculture was Professor Leonard O Garro, originally from Coull’s Hill. He gave a grounded and eye-opening address two years ago at ‘Frenches House’, Kingstown, as the award-winning scientist in the Eastern Caribbean for that year. About 40 years before that, the agricultural scientist and Minister of Agriculture Hon James Mitchell, from Bequia, published his thinking in an essay entitled ‘No Culture without Agriculture”. Otherwise, agriculture talk has been about miscellaneous issues, specific problems, footnotes under tourism or education, and trickle down overflows from global agreements.


In the Vincentian social formation, it is in agriculture and agriculture alone that a class is the force driving the commodities producing social enterprise. Agriculture is based on a single class of Vincentians. Farmers are segmented along various lines, but an overriding set of relations define the class as one. In other areas, whether commerce, hospitality. IT, or manufacturing, it is a motley collection of entities that makes up the sector. That is a weakness which hampers their sectoral and networking development. In a weak class constellation like ours therefore, the forward movement of the society calls for the centering and strengthening and converging of the agricultural enterprise to become a ladder, a leader, or rather a hub for other activities. It is the historian Arnold Toynbee’s argument that the development of all empires was founded on the strength of peasants/farmers or agriculture. He is certainly on the right track in the case of SVG, in the past, and today. We ourselves need to restart our development thinking, talking and walking with an apology to agriculture, agriculturalists and the agricultural environments.

We must protect our agricultural land from abuse. It is too scarce and fragile a resource for hotel projects, housing, and other non-agriculture use to have priority on agricultural terrain. Conventional crop production has fallen off in the past 15 to 20 years as a means of making a decent living among vulnerable farmers, and has therefore left much land in idle use, However, it is a short-sighted and visionless policy to assume that this conjuncture is permanent and as a result, to put productive property to use in services and settlement. More traitorous still to lease it away to interests from abroad, who have colonial intentions. Consider another perspective. A much-needed Agricultural University campus of the Windward Islands has a very realistic prospect. It could specialize in a coherent programme cluster like Agricultural Food Sovereignty, Wellness, Land Renewal, and International Trade, Research and Development, along with more related general degree offerings, and attention to concrete farmer problems and capacitation in the sub-region. It is the fulfilment of the dream for a post-colonial university that lurked in the minds of our Arthur Lewis, Eric Williams, Lloyd Best, CLR James, George Lamming and others. (Forgive the male bias in my reading and references.) There is, further, a high demand for quality resources in this challenging global area of concern, not to mention the local and subregional crisis of policy and practice. I would propose Peter’s Hope or Argyle Green City as good university campus sites, and the Glen College could be associated with this learning complex. What we would have will be a first-rate, class-based, ‘national’ university with growing credentials serving the uplift of the world’s farmers and their children and a global cause.


Of course, this is only talk, ‘Round Table’ talk that might go nowhere positive, unless other things were in place. For example, is there the will and organization of farmers to hold up a discussion of their rightful place in our political and social order? Also what about the will of the political leaders and directorate? Examine their credentials. Many members of our Cabinet have benefitted in their earlier years from the fruit of agricultural labour and production. A few continue to earn income from agriculture, though none of them seem to encourage their children to commit to this productive land business. Perhaps it is too ‘common class’ for their future. That alone may be a testament to what they have in mind for agriculture. A living for those who can’t do better. If we are not ready to go beyond talk, then we must turn the talk inwards, straight to the heart of the matter, talking directly with those of us whom they think “Can’t do better”.