Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — Agriculture officials here are being called upon to pull themselves together in the interest of the sector and national development.

The call by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves last week came as farmers culled 405 acres of banana affected by black sigatoka.

The disease, which first appeared here in 2009, spread across the country this year as agricultural officials for four months failed to order oil needed to control it.

The crisis has further jeopardised the industry, which took a beating when Hurricane Tomas destroyed 98 per cent of banana trees last year.

Gonsalves, in a meeting with the staff of the Ministry of Agriculture on Thursday, noted that four Caribbean nations — Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica, Grenada and St. Kitts and Nevis — are under International Monetary Fund programmes and urged the civil servants “to watch what is happening around in the Caribbean.

“I want you to take a couple of minutes from the minutia in which you are engaged either in your ministry, your home, your family, your friend,” he said.

He further noted that Trinidad and Tobago has imposed a state of emergency to address “ordinary crime” even as there is “trauma inside the government” in St. Lucia. Gonsalves further said that his counterpart Bruce Golding in Jamaica, “after four years, … say ‘I can’t take the pressure; I am giving it up’.”

“The social economic condition in the Caribbean and the political institutions are facing immense challenges on an on-going basis and the question is: Is something going to give? Can the region take another two, three years of the pressure coming out from the US of A and Europe?” Gonsalves said.

He said that in the face of these realities, the Ministry of Agriculture has to spend a lot of time “making sure that we are more efficient and we produce.

“… We cannot be complacent. We must understand the seriousness of the challenges that face us,” he added.

Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, further said that while he was able to find EC$2.5 million to pay as assistance to farmers, he was not a “magician”.

Black sigatoka has caused Vincentian banana farmers to cull 18 percent of plants across the country. (Internet photo)

“I don’t want you to believe that. There is no magic. It’s hard work and creative thought,” he explained.

“I really want to ask you all. Please let us pull it together. I am pleading with you. This ministry is absolutely vital. We have to have a partnership with the farmers,” he said as he urged agriculture officials not allow trivial interpersonal issues to affect their work.

“Listen, we have to do more with less. … We know what we are about. We have the broad framework. We have the direction. You have your estimates every year. You know what you are supposed to do. And don’t allow the personal vanities to get in the way,” Gonsalves said.

He further told the agricultural officials that while some of them might “not like” him, he has been elected prime minister until 2015.

“Those who don’t want me, well, you wait ‘til 2015 see if you could high-fall me. But don’t try and do things in the meantime when, in fact, you are affecting yourself and affecting the country,” Gonsalves said.

“The reason why I come to agriculture is because of the importance,” the prime minister added.

Meanwhile, Minister of Agriculture Montgomery Daniel told his staff, “The action of the Ministry of Agriculture will make difference as move forward.”

He spoke of his experience as a staff member of the ministry, years before entering politics.

“Things … have change but it is important that the individuals who act on behalf of the ministry that they keep the flag flying high on behalf of the ministry,” he said.

“At the end of the day, whatever is the result, all of us will either accept or either reject the outcome,” he further stated.

Daniel further said that while his ministry has good workers, “one or two individuals do not pull their weight”.

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