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The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of I-Witness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

The agricultural sector has been the bedrock of small economies in the Eastern Caribbean for centuries but has grown to depend on preferential export markets and was focused primarily on the export of single commodities. The emergence of globalisation has changed the dynamics which demanded a change in our market focus. Yet, we have been engaged in much political debate but have failed miserably in defining a new environment for revival of the sector. This critical sector has not altered its course of producing food based on external chemical inputs as opposed to the international trend to shift to organic production.

While the region expends a whooping US$4.75 Billion dollars (EC 12.75 Billion) per year in food imports we have not been able to craft appropriate policies or to educate our people on the benefits of eating fresh local produce. In fact the retail value of our imported food may be more in the region of EC$16 Billion when duties, levies and charges are included. Concomitant to this is the resultant added medical costs incurred by our people and governments leading to an even more disastrous scenario.

One would have expected that in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, policy makers and our financial institutions would have been awakened to our competitive advantage in food production for domestic consumption, however, the numerous challenges on the ground: including but not limited to land tenure, land use but also to the stigma attached to the plantation has not helped us in making that crucial shift. This creates a scenario that excludes farmers from adequate/affordable financing.

Our external focus has kept us primarily discussing export and foreign exchange earnings while ignoring the local captive market and the opportunity to re-engineer rural development. We continue to moan over WTO rules while our tastes shift to accommodate increasing imports of processed food lacking in high nutrient density.

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Our so called modern agriculture which operates within the confines of the green revolution seems unable to make a much needed shift toward a new and far more attractive cleaner organic identity. This has led to high levels of non communicable diseases and compromised immune systems making us even more susceptible to new and emerging communicable diseases, e.g. Chikungunya.

One could forecast that our high levels of non communicable diseases will at this rate be complemented by emerging levels of communicable diseases as our resistance plummets from over consumption of highly processed foods. So why are we unable to recognize the correlation between our poor agricultural practices, our over consumption of imported processed foods and our resultant deteriorating health?

The increasing cost of “sick care/Medical care” evidenced by our rising expenditure in the health sector poses a grave economic burden particularly on the most vulnerable (very young and old) and the working population. It certainly is not rocket science that the above scenario impacts on our already low productivity and robs us of much needed income in a scenario of high and increasing public debt.
Here is a clear opportunity for conscious policy makers to craft appropriate policies to re-engineer agriculture and incentivize behavioral change. The 15% VAT on fresh local fruits and vegetables, as is levied in the supermarkets in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, is evidence of poor foresight and lack of vision. It demonstrates the lack of needed cross linkages in Education, Health and Agricultural policies but equally the lack of a genuine concern in improving our competitiveness.

Further mismatch of policies and linkages is evidenced in the way we treat with water management and our lack of recognition of this valuable resource. We are a region blessed with quality water and relatively large national marine-based resources, yet our fishing sector is not owned and operated by our people and our banking sector is yet to capitalise or capitalise on this endowment. In fact, even our on land water resources are not on the list of priorities as commercial and bankable projects.

Finally the issue of the value of agriculture as it relates to crop insurance, crop value and by extension the worth of agricultural lands remains unaddressed and creates an environment of risk that makes recovery from disasters virtually unfeasible. This is compounded by high public debt that in some cases means that agricultural infrastructure like feeder roads and on farm access to water are totally ignored/neglected.
One may ask if agro enterprises in the region are equipped to bounce back from the effects of the recent economic downturn compounded by the challenges of climate change.

The writer opines that the current socio-economic and political environment is not conducive to the recovery of this sector and that the greatest hazard to agriculture may not be the weather after all but the unpredictable political and policy environment in which we are operating.
We therefore need an internal focus and external awareness and to do this we must: think Health, Educate and re-engineer Agriculture if we are to improve our Tourism product which our leaders seem to have identified as the engine of growth. In short we must turn up the HEAT (linking Health, Education, Agriculture & Tourism).
(Excerpt by Lennox D. Lampkin from the Business Symposium and Innovation Forum 2014 organized by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank to mark Financial Information Month (St. Kitts/Nevis Wednesday Oct. 16, 2014).

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

9 replies on “Why agriculture needs conscious, people-centred leadership!”

  1. Lampkin surely must be aware of the twin problems that make our agriculture sector uncompetitive — economies of scale (too much of our land consists of tiny and inefficient peasant holdings and even most large Caribbean plantations are small by global standards) and competition from more productive and cost-efficient mega-producers in other tropical parts of the world — but makes no mention of them, focusing instead on the passing yuppie fad of “organic farming,” a process that makes food production even more expensive. For example, a lot of locally produced tropical fruits and vegetables which are also grown in Latin America, Africa, and South East Asia, including organic items, are now cheaper to buy in Brooklyn, London, and Montreal than they are in Kingstown.

    And, if we went totally organic (which has been shown to have little or no health advantages for consumers), retail prices would skyrocket and production would nosedive, making us more dependent on non-organic imports.

    As for his contention that a 15 percent VAT on farm produce in supermarkets adversely affects production and consumption, I can’t believe that Lampkin is unaware of the fact that nearly all locally consumed SVG agricultural output never reaches any supermarket but is instead either consumed by the producer or sold VAT-free by thousands of small-scale vendors all over the country.

    1. Lennox Lampkin says:

      How do you verify that what you call organic from far away nations is indeed organic? Organic food should be preferably traceable and that is easiest when it is local as when transported over long distances food risks cross contamination.

      Moreover, who said I was speaking of exporting to Montreal, London or New York at this time? If you again review my article you would gather that the focus is on developing a product that is clean and primarily has local appeal. This identity is in my view non existent as we speak. We seem to be all over the place but meaningful focus and conscious leadership seems to evade us.

      You may agree that there should be a link with Tourism if policy makers have boldly identified tourism as the primary source of economic activity (that is as far as my export focus goes at this time). In fact, it is the best way we can add in country value (local food preparation) and by so doing create much needed local jobs.

      You seem also to disagree that 15% VAT on a dry coconut in the supermarket is absurd. I do not think that makes sense and makes the declaration of a wellness revolution even more contrived! Before stating that local produce is hardly available/traded in supermarkets you should peruse the shelves at Greaves Supermarkets.

  2. I’m glad that Mr. Lampkin is a strong voice from the agricultural community speaking out for a different approach to agriculture in SVG. Someone needs to be that voice and he seems well suited for the role.

    I am absolutely in agreement that there needs to be greater linkages and cooperation between the different sectors. I for one believe that the present fixation on monoculture crops such as bananas or cocoa for the purpose of export is a bit backward. Our farmers do not get any empowerment to speak of and precious little money from this type of economic activity. When production and distribution is set up in this way it simply creates a situation where farmers are heavily dependent on the government for the creation and maintenance of distribution channels for their products as well as many other negative issues that I won’t go into.

    For a long time now I have thought that if we are going to focus on tourism then we may as well find a way to incorporate agriculture into tourism so that our farmers can receive more direct benefits and so that more power can remain in their hands. One way of doing this is by having their produce sold to tourist establishments. But an even more exciting way of doing this is for farmers to have their farms as tourist establishments in their own right.

    I don’t want to be long winded so let me make it brief. Farm tourism is a growing activity in many parts of the world, including the Caribbean. For example there is this a wonderful establishment in the Bahamas where they not only grow crops but they have a restaurant, they create their own specialty food products for sale, they sell to the yachts that visit etc etc.

    People in the north are looking for a simpler and more rustic way of living and the next best thing to escaping New York permanently is to have a vacation where its rustic, quiet and healthy. Farmers have to start thinking like business men and think of ways they can leverage their farms into different spin off economic activities. The sun, sea and sand thing is all played out. Its not necessary for us to have that focus on the mainland. There are farm tours, there are specialty products that can be sold from crops grown on the farm, farms can also serve as bed and breakfast establishments, tourists can actually engage in some sort of farming activity as part of their experience which I’m pretty confident they would be very grateful for. There are so many ways that agriculture and the business of agriculture can be one of our major tourism products.

    I can go on and on about this but I will stop here. We need to stop being so inward looking and let our imaginations run wild. And if government wants to remain backward and not help to create the environment that is conducive to farm tourism businesses then the farmers themselves need to take matters into their own hands and empower themselves.

  3. What SVG’s farmers need to do is take a step backwards from this nasty Marxist government. They have been almost destroyed by them, look forwards to getting a new government into power who will truly help and nuture them back to agricultural success.

  4. Ben, Lampkin’s answer may not be the right one. Hence you have a chance to give your opinion on the same issue.
    I look forward to see your side of this coin.

    1. Actually, I’m working a piece which argues that lots of small-farming actually retards Caribbean economic development. Say tuned.

  5. Lennox Lampkin says:

    C ben-David maybe you should review the import statistics but equally review the chemicals we import and use… many are highly restricted and some banned in the countries of origin/production:

    Maybe the links below could help clarify my position and the direction I have chosen.

    Your assertion that farmers eat what they produce is false! If that was the case we would today mt be a net importer of food. SVG eats in excess of EC$400 Million in imported (mostly processed) food.

    A perusal of this list will also show that some chemicals that are highly restricted are still imported and sold in SVG:

  6. Watching Hard says:

    I really don’t get your method Mr. Chance. Why have a comment section if you don’t post the comments? People come to the site not just to read the articles but to read the comments too. There are not many avenues for expressions regarding matters of local interest for Vincies on the internet. Not everyone wants to post on Facebook. If the comments are not abusive or defamatory then why not post them? Your method would discourage people from commenting.

  7. Lennox Lampkin says:

    I wish to thank all for your comments.

    As an active farmer I am proud to report that Lampkin’s Natural Farm (LaNaf) is one that has most of the exotic fruits found in SVG with a focus on non chemical farming. I make no apologies for adhering to the philosophy that our people should eat fresh, eat local, eat seasonal and that our food should be free of synthetic toxins.

    I am also not the least bothered by the overused term ‘economies of scale’. The food import statistics will reveal that we have a captive domestic market. Moreover the high levels of cancers, diabetes and other Non Communicable Diseases and an increasingly obese population should be compelling enough to drive a conscious shift in methods of production and in our consumption (diets).

    Clearly the major challenge seems to be an inappropriate policy direction manifested in the lack of backward and forward linkages across sectors.

    I am therefore making a case for us to build from the nucleus and to produce and eat our own clean food. My immediate focus is not on export and my marketing is done primarily to the conscious and the young. No sense trying to teach old dogs new tricks!

    Our topography is suited to small allotments but the challenge faced by many is the lack of an enabling environment for farmers to independently get on with the BUSINESS of farming.

    Small farms is generally agreed to be the way forward and the Caribbean has a rich history in doing just that! In fact at the recent Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2014 held in Suriname , the advice was for supporting the family farm. Who says we should return to ‘The Plantation/Mega Farm”?

    Perhaps this article would help in clarifying

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