KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Farmers in North Windward “lamented” the state of the agricultural sector to the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), when party officials visited the constituency this week, the NDP said on a press statement.
The NDP continued its outreach to farmers by travelling to the northeast of the country, where Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace and shadow minister for agriculture, Roland “Patel” Matthews discussed agricultural issues with farmers.
“Farmers lamented the state of the industry, pointing to the destroyed irrigation infrastructure which was run through the farms, given to the people of the constituency through the Orange Hill Land Reform programme,” the NDP said in a press release.
“The project cost millions and served the farming community,” the party further said, adding that farmers complained that the irrigation system was “beyond repair”.
“They were also quick to point out that former minister of agriculture Montgomery Daniel’s banana farm resembles an oasis in the desert. One farmer declared, ‘His is the only farm that looks like a really thriving farm, while everyone else gets no help!'” according to the NDP.
The party said that a female constituent, who is a major farmer, pointed out that it was through banana cultivation that she was able to build a home and educate her children.
“Another lady has gone from shipping 800 boxes per fortnight to shipping nothing since black sigatoka [in 2009] and Hurricane Tomas [in October 2010]. Local producers of cocoa shared their views on the impending plans with Armajaro and indicated their opposition to any exclusivity being given to the overseas company in purchasing cocoa,” the NDP said.
The party further said that farmers were “united in their view that the banana industry needs to be restructured and ownership returned to the farmers.
“Citing, the absence of money on the part of the government to invest in farming, they fear that St. Vincent will end up importing food that they could properly be growing here if the government was serious about helping people to get back to the land.”
The NDP quoted a “distraught farmer” as saying, “Without help and a properly structured programme, banana will be lost permanently”.
“He indicated that he had gone from cultivating four acres in bananas to doing only two acres and diversifying into more than ten different short crops. He pointed out to the attentive group that this only provided subsistence for him but did not bring him the kind of regular income he enjoyed when bananas were thriving,” the party said.
Eustace described the scene of abandoned lands, and disgruntled and despairing farmers, as depressing, the NDP said and quoted Eustace as saying something must be done.
The NDP said it would continue to visit the banana belt and interact with farmers.
The NDP delegation also included West Kingstown representative Daniel Cummings, Sen. Vynnette Frederick, former area representative Monty Roberts, former agriculture minister Allan Cruickshank, Research Officer Addison Thomas and former Member of Parliament Burton Williams.