The Ministry of Agriculture will Friday distribute butternut squash seeds to 15 farmers in an effort to increase production so as to export a 40-foot container of the fruit to the United Kingdom weekly.
Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar told a press briefing on Wednesday that the country is also hoping to ramp up production of bananas, hot peppers, and sweet potatoes to meet export demands.
He said a critical part of agricultural thrust in St. Vincent and the Grenadines embodies the idea of diversification around banana.
Caesar said it is “of great interest that Winfresh started with a very important partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture to diversify around the marketing of the commodity by first signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for St. Vincent and the Grenadines to export some six 40-foot containers of several commodities to the United Kingdom.
“This MOU was signed under three months ago and recently we had a visit by Winfresh and we would have set out the agenda and the programme for the development and implementation of this new export strategy initiative.”
Caesar said that the ministry will begin with butternut squash and added that there are farmers in SVG who have a history of growing the fruit.
He, however, noted that a significant quantity of butternut squash is imported into SVG from the Untied States of America.
“Firstly, this thrust is targeted and it has as a key objective to reduce the imports of butternut squash into St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It is one thing to have an export strategy, and that export strategy is one that we are going forward with, but we also have to take into consideration that we have to produce more and we have to consume more of what we produce,” Caesar said.
He said 20 acres of land have been earmarked and 15 farmers are willing to start the cultivation of butternut squash.
“However, it is not going to be a one off export. It is something that is going to take place every week. Therefore, the technicians in the ministry, they are working out the programme so that they can place the intervals for planting so that we can have the requisite quantities available to secure our market space in the United Kingdom coming from St. Vincent and the Grenadines on a weekly basis,” Caesar said.
He said that in addition to receiving seeds on Friday, the 15 farmers will be assisted with fertilizer and ministry officials will be assigned to them to ensure that they meet the quality that is needed for export and that they follow the proper technical knowledge so that that there can be the proper yields per acre.
“Once we have the proper yield per acre, it is then going to be a profitable exercise for all of us.”
Caesar said: “There are also community officer assigned in the Ministry of Agriculture and I want to say to farmers that we are actually now offering you the opportunity to express and interest in growing these commodities.
“Many times, when you introduce new crops, persons sometimes do not want to embrace diversification and they may not readily want to come into the planting of a crop that they do not have the expertise in.
“But, it is one of the hurdles that we are going to face, and I am indeed moved in a very positive way that over the last month that we were able to have a farmer base of 15 persons already with 20 acres and I am certain that once we work hand in hand with the technical persons in the ministry, that we would be able to produce the requisite standards and the quantities needed for us to export to the UK.”
Regarding the cultivation of onions, Caesar said his ministry is building a farmer base and asking particularly for farmers on the Leeward (western) side of St. Vincent to become a part of the producer base to produce the commodities.
He said interest can be expressed by registering at any of the agricultural stations.