KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, March 1, IWN – The government is sourcing money to build the E$652 million international airport at Argyle and should do the same for the agricultural sector, Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace says.
Eustace said this week that he will asking in Parliament on Thursday about the Government’s plan for the banana industry.
He called on Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, to “put this economy right”.
The former prime minister and minister of finance said businesses are closing and people are on the breadline and are “making dangerous statements” because they are angry.
“We have to do something to put this economy right and that is what Gonsalves should be doing,” Eustace said. “Deal with the economic consequences of his mismanagement of the economy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Eustace said that in the 2013 Estimates, the Ministry of Agriculture said it will replant 1,000 acres of bananas.
“I am one of those persons who believe that we have had 55 or more years of experience in banana production and, therefore, a lot of people are skilled and have very deep knowledge of the industry and what needs to be done to bring it back,” said Eustace a banana farmer.
He, however, said the he does not see in the Estimates financing for the Government’s banana plan, slated for execution between April and December.
“I don’t see any money there for the replanting. Is it expected that the farmers will do all the replanting? Is that what we are expecting? The only capital project I see there for bananas is a truck for black sigatoka,” he said of the disease that ravaged the sector in 2011, amidst Government inaction.
“And when I raised it in the budget, the Prime Minister told me they have some money in the recurrent budget. But that is not enough for no project. Farmers are going to need some income support, farmers are going to need some input,” Eustace said.
He further reiterated that he and North Leeward representative, Roland Patel Matthews, shadow minister for agriculture, formulated a plan for 1,000 acres of bananas after touring farming districts last year.
The plan, Eustace said, shows that about EC$35 million would be needed for 1,000 acres of banana.
The money includes income support, subsidisation of inputs, and assumes a certain spraying schedule, said Eustace, an economist.
“It came up to $35 million. I see nothing in the budget which tells me that that could happen in 2013, in terms of money. So, how do we expect the economy to grow?
“That is one of the fastest ways to resume growth, because of our background and experience in this area,” Eustace further said, adding, “If we are going to try something new in agriculture, that will take some time.”
He said the Government has talked about diversification in last 10 budgets.
“Every year, a whole set of diversification projects in the budget; what happens to agricultural diversification? They are not there. And I criticised the output in the budget, where so few acres were planted of the things we said we are going to diversify into. It was a joke. And I am saying if this government is serious about agriculture and serious about this economy they wouldn’t allow that to happen.
“When they want to find money for the airport, they find it. And they must find money for agriculture in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. They must find money for bananas; they must find money to give some support to the farmers who are interested in continuing this industry. That is more important. We can’t just slug along and expect things to drop in our lap. We have to take action,” Eustace said.