The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) says that if elected to office in the next general elections, constitutionally due by the end of next year, it will put agricultural development “on the front burner”.
Roland “Patel” Matthews, the NDP’s spokesperson on agriculture, told a consultation with farmers in Chapman Village last week, that in the past, agriculture contributed more to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in St. Vincent and the Grenadines than in any other Caribbean country.
“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,” he said, blaming the Unity Labour Party government’s “virtual neglect and degradation of the sector”.
He said the decline was also due to the government’s “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”.
Matthews also faulted the government for “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 goal of the NDP’s plan, he said, is “to regain the elite status that once characterized Vincentian agriculture of the past…
“The NDP’s intention is to commit the necessary time and resources that are required for a renewed emphasis on agriculture,” he told the consultation, which was also addressed by NDP and opposition leader, Arnhim Eustace.
Matthews, who is also MP for North Leeward, said that an NDP administration will listen to farmers and address their specific needs.
“We will talk to farmers about the crops they want to grow and eat, as well as the unique challenges they face. We will partner with organizations that understand and are equipped to address these challenges, and we will invest in research to identify relevant and affordable solutions that farmers want and will use,” he said.
He further said that his party will also work to increase farm productivity, and will foster a comprehensive approach to helping smallholder farmers prosper, which includes income support, access to inputs, more effective tools and farm management practices, relevant local knowledge, use of technologies where possible, and reliable markets.
The party will also introduce agricultural policies that support farmers in their efforts to better feed themselves and their communities.
Matthews further said that his party will foster sustainable agricultural practices.
“In an era of increasingly scarce resources and growing impact of climate change, we will encourage farmers to embrace and adopt sustainable practices that help them grow more with less land, water, fertilizer, and other costly inputs while preserving natural resources for future generations.”
The NDP will strive to achieve greater impact with partners and will be committed to establish linkages with all farming communities to share knowledge and experiences effectively.
“Grant agencies and other partners, nongovernmental organizations, traditional and emerging donors, and the private sector will all be a part of a network working to the advantage of the local farmers,” Matthews said.
He said the party will reintroduce the credit system and make it available to all stakeholders in the agricultural sector, adding that proper guidelines will be instituted to ensure the system is run effectively to the benefit of all stakeholders in the sector.
Regarding policies on agriculture, Matthews said that timely, relevant, and accurate information is crucial to farmers.
“Policymakers must be able to access good data to inform their decision making,” he said, adding that, in government, the NDP will support data collection, research, and policy analysis to help evaluate the impact of various approaches, get accurate information to farmers, and assess the effects of national and international agricultural policies.
He further said that the NDP will support efforts to improve the health and productivity of livestock, particularly chickens, goats, sheep, pigs and cows.
This, he said, will be done by improving animal genetics and veterinary care.
Further, to ensure that farmers can benefit from animal health and genetic technologies, the NDP will strive to achieve the best models for providing farmers with the knowledge and tools they need to increase their on-farm production levels, Matthews said.
Matthews said the NDP will support efforts to get new and appropriate tools and farming practices into the hands of farmers, including improved seeds and access to better soil, water, and livestock solutions.
“We will look for ways to strengthen knowledge exchange through available technologies. We will also work with farmers’ organizations to help farmers hone their business management skills, gain greater purchasing power and marketing leverage, and improve their crop and resource management skills.”
Matthews also elaborated on the party’s outlook on strategic partnerships and advocacy in the agricultural sector.
“While strengthening existing partnerships, we will strive to build new partnerships with non-traditional markets through our advocacy efforts and investments. We will seek innovative solutions to agricultural policy challenges and will use our political will and public support to solve them. Our overall goal is to ensure that donor and developing country investments and policies support sustainable smallholder farmer productivity,” Matthew said.
On the issue of feeder road and access roads development, he said that an NDP administration will seek funding for the rehabilitation of the existing feeder roads and the creation of new roads where possible to facilitate the access to new land areas for agriculture.