The major resource base of our country is its land, which has been traditionally devoted to the cultivation of crop and livestock species for local food consumption, export earnings and job creation and income generation.
The New Democratic Party recognizes the central role of agriculture to the economy of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and its considerable contribution to the livelihood and well-being of Vincentians throughout successive generations.
Our country is the best disposed group of islands in the Caribbean for agriculture; it is endowed with an extraordinary agricultural resource base. Its tropical climate, very fertile soils and abundant supplies of clean water, coupled with the skill and will of the people in farming, make it ideal for year-round production of high quality agricultural products. For that reason, our country has been correctly categorized as an agricultural country. The soils in particular are so productive that the claim is made that “if you plant a nail, you’d get a crowbar”.
In earlier times, our country had earned the celebrated status as a place of excellence for Sea-Island cotton, Arrowroot and Coconuts, as well as its classic hillside contours and contour-farming techniques for the protection and preservation of the environment.
St. Vincent’s agriculture has contributed more to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) than that of any other Caribbean country. The agricultural sector has traditionally bolstered the economy; created jobs and employment opportunities for our people; provided honest incomes and earnings for many in our society; sustained significant levels of foreign exchange earnings for extended periods; and offered a measure of food security for the population. Thus, the sector has created wealth and maintained a high standard of living for the widest cross-section of our people. This has been especially true for our peasants, small farmers, processors, marketers/traffickers, and workers, i.e. our local, or indigenous, private sector.
Despite the importance and vibrancy of the agricultural sector, its dominant position in the life of Vincentians has declined substantially in the past decade, as large numbers of people left the sector/industry. Three main causes have identified for this decline:
- Government’s virtual neglect and degradation of the sector;
- The imposition of ill-advised policies like terminating the banana credit system and failure to incorporate the established banana facilities overseas to expand the national diversification efforts; and
- The negative impact of a range of external factors such as the high cost of imported inputs, stringent quality standards imposed on our exported products, unstable markets, low prices offered for produce, all of which are essentially beyond the control of our farmers, processors and traders.
The very obvious fact is that many established farmers have been forced out of agriculture, and vast areas of formerly highly productive land are now disbanded and lie idle. Even a cursory examination of our countryside, or rural areas generally, reveals a deteriorating situation, with large sections of areas previously deemed part of the national food-basket are now underutilized, or converted to non-productive uses. This is serious! Our responsibility is to help rehabilitate the sector.
The mission of the New Democratic Party is to arrest the deteriorating situation and revitalize the agricultural sector to make it efficient, technologically prepared and internationally competitive, so that the sector can regain its place of prominence as a major contributor to the national economy and guarantee the food and nutrition security of our people, and provide employment, income, and sustainable livelihood, while preserving the environment for present and future generations.
The goal is therefore to regain the elite status that once characterized Vincentian agriculture of the past. This mission and new policy can be realized by developing appropriate activities, in collaboration with stakeholders, to address the following minimum key objectives:
To incorporate flexibility within the sector to adapt quickly to changing external Global situations.
A New Democratic Party administration will facilitate and support the private sector to tackle these objectives by instituting relevant actions through the Ministry of Agriculture (Food production, Forestry, Fisheries and Rural Development). As such the Ministry will be to repositioned to meet the challenges of the 21st Century, and promote a vision of food and nutrition security, rural prosperity and improvement in the quality of life and livelihood of all Vincentians.
The vision will be shared, or advanced, through strategic planning meetings, seminars, workshops and field visits, in order to encourage partnership, cooperation and participation with key stakeholders in the private sector, NGOs and civil society. Such contact will inform national priorities and development plans, and determine specific programmes and actions. This approach will accordingly motivate farmers, fishermen, processors, marketers, agribusiness entrepreneurs and technicians, to be more productive and gain confidence in the Ministry as a tool, or facilitating mechanism, to aid their business operations.
New Democratic Party will:
- Introduce an Agricultural Development Bank.
- Establish a special regime of incentives for new farms.
- Establish a Consumer and Prices Advisory Board, with a mandate to address prices for agricultural supplies as well as matters pertaining to prices and consumerism.
- Establish farmers markets in other areas of St. Vincent and the Grenadines including Sion Hill, Calliaqua, Georgetown, Barrouallie and Campden Park.
- Continue to make agricultural lands available to farmers through the Land Reform Programme.
- Designate areas for small ruminants (goat, sheep and pigs) production and some for root crops to generate national food security.
- Re-introduce agriculture in primary school and a youth appreciation in agriculture (YAPA) as a programme for young farmers.