Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday says that agriculture is important to St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and that there can be no economy without agriculture.

“It is our position, fundamentally that you can’t have a country and an economy without taking care of agriculture,” he said at a town hall meeting with Vincentians in New York, on Sunday.

“You have to be able to produce and feed yourself. You can’t live just on in-flows from tourism or from the people who go out and sail, or the remittances you send out here and then take that money and buy canned peas and canned mackerel and stuff like that,” the opposition leader said.

“You have to be able to take care of agriculture,” Friday told the event, organised by the New York arm of his New Democratic Party.

Friday said it is, therefore, the position of the NDP that it will “treat agriculture as not a thing of the past but as an essential pillar to the future of St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.

The opposition leader said agriculture used to be one of the main sectors of the Vincentian economy but it has declined significantly under the Unity Labour Party government (ULP) and now represents less than 10% of GDP.

He said that the loss and decline is more evident in the banana industry, adding that in its heyday, the crop contributed over EC$100 million annually.

“There were challenges in the European market but the intervention by the NDP administration and other governments of the Windward Islands, they negotiated with supermarkets to try and maintain the market for our producers.”

The opposition leader said that in 2001, when the ULP came to office, SVG earned EC$37 million from the sale of banana.

“In 2012, in a question that was posed to the minister of agriculture at the time, he said in that year that we earned a mere $1.5 million from the sale of bananas. Today, we don’t export any bananas to the UK.”

Leader of the Opposition, Godwin Friday. (iWN file photo)

Friday said that in 2015, the NDP, recognising the importance of agriculture, said there was still some market for bananas, if produced properly and efficiently and if the basic requirements of credit and the spraying needed to keep the crop healthy are done.

He said the NDP said it would cultivate 1,000 acres of bananas, if elected to office. 

“I guess they (ULP administration) thought it was like a bid because we say 1,000 they say they going do 2,000. So it was like an auction…”

Friday said that in response to a question in Parliament last month, Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar said there was 600 acres of bananas cultivated in SVG.

The opposition leader said that some of this is what the cocoa company planted as shade for younger cocoa plants, thereby making them one of the largest bananas farmers in St. Vincent.

“But they are really in the business of planting cocoa,” Friday said. 

He said that farmers rely primarily on the local and regional market in Trinidad but there have been problems with currency exchange, which have made it very difficult for the farmers and traders to conduct business efficiently.

The central bank and the governments got involved but the traders say that the problem persists and they simply cannot trade properly when they are paid in TT currency but cannot convert it to Eastern Caribbean dollars to bring to SVG, the opposition leader told the gathering. 

“The challenge, it seems to me, in agriculture and one we have taken on as a party, is to transform the agricultural economy from one of subsistence agriculture to an agri-business model,” he said, adding that this is recommended by the World Bank.

“For this, it means credit has to be provided back to the industry. One thing the ULP did was to take that away from the banana farmers.”

Friday said that the government must also assist in finding and maintaining markets.

“When I say maintain, I don’t mean you to say you are going to sell to St. Lucia or you are going to sell to the UK. It is the price at which you sell as well. So maintaining a market so that the farmers can make a decent living from it as well. 

“So credit, market and appropriate technical support must be made available to farmers. 

“Farmers don’t need a hand-out. What they need is a hand to help them up and when they demean the work they do by simply saying they go put you on NIS non-contributory pension and they give you a $300 a month for somebody who used to be able to pay his mortgage and buy a truck and sent his children to school.

“That is, in a sense, a slap in the face, as far as I am concerned. We have to look for new solutions to be able to make our agricultural sector viable and productive once more,” Friday said. 

The opposition leader said that farmers cannot do it on their own.

“And that is what it feels like now: that they are on their own. If the market prices for dasheen and ginger were to fall, the farmer is left holding the bag. Always, the farmer is the one who suffers. No wonder so many of them have abandoned their land to elephant grass or move to Kingstown to find work as security guards or to sell on the streets of Kingstown. 

“They add to the joblessness and misery that continues in the country,” Friday said, adding that unemployment remains the number one concern for Vincentians, especially young people.

10 replies on “You can’t have country or economy without agriculture — Friday  ”

  1. This is the best piece I’ve seen written on the economy of St Vincent. Clear, concise and absolutely on message. Thank you Mr Friday

  2. Even though the ULP does not have good agricultural policy it cannot be ignored that agriculture had its greatest decline during the Mitchell years. The last major crop, bananas, were “subsidised” for a long time and indirectly IN THE LONG-TERM that is what destroyed our economy. I was not born here nor did I live here in those years but it is obvious that those subsidies had much to do with causing the cost of our labor to skyrocket (SVG farm labor costs are among the highest on earth!) and combined with sky-high taxes, Black Sigatoka and the death of our Citrus, Papaya, etc much of our agriculture is dead, and without creative thinking has little chance of a comeback. I do not see how cocoa survives. The very high cost of production make our chocolate very, VERY expensive but it still needs to improve. The cocoa people must be genius to keep things afloat at such high costs. I hope medicinal ganja does well too. We brag that it is so good but every place you go they all say they have the best medicinal ganja.
    Sabota Ceasar is one of the very few in the ULP that can think outside the box. I have seen some other great-thinking ULP people that were rejected because of that. Ralph Gonsalves seems to be gifted in geo-politics and other area and politics in general but is flawed in other aspects, especially economics. Agriculture has some sort of subsidies almost everywhere on earth but not so much in SVG. I have no idea about the thinking in the NDP. When Friday took over I heard great economic policy from him but have never heard it since. He was for lowering taxes for investment. Is he still? Ivan O’Neal has some great ideas and the best credentials of anyone in the entire Caribbean. Some ideas do seem crazy but nevertheless his reputation when working in Asia is even much better than Eustace reputation in the Caribbean. Sadly, in all these years the ULP has earned a poor reputation in economics. I have suggested more Supply-Side economic thinking which creates an environment of opportunity. Demand-Side Keynesian policies have always brought poverty, even before John Maynard Keynes was born. As far back as when the Tang Dynasty in China tried it and collapsed as a result. YOU CANNOT BORROW YOURSELF INTO WEALTH. ONE DAY IT WILL CATCH UP WITH YOU! It almost worked with Sarkozy, the former leader of France. He borrowed heavily (personally) from Ghadaffi and then did everything possible to help to kill him so he would not have to pay it back. Although he assisted in killing Ghadaffi he was later discovered, and at the least has lost all respect of his people and has no chance of ever leading France again.
    Bananas are for the time being dead and the NDP will not be able to bring it back. It is stupid to think so. Grass-Roots Farmers can do much to recover Agriculture but for that to happen to its best potential the government has to put policy into place where it can happen. Because of the sky-high cost of farm labor in SVG because of the sky-high taxes, agriculture will never be what it was even with subsidies or high-pay fad crops like Medicinal Ganja. It is just too expensive to farm in SVG and that is why we are a shadow of our former selves.

  3. Good comment DUKE. We have a difficult time exporting crops because it is always easy to find it less expensive elsewhere. Even though our products are so expensive compared to other places, we still cannot sell to anyone besides a few countries here in the Caribbean.

    1. Beverley you should not take what DUKE writes as fact and then agree with him. Because that just makes you as stupid and biased as he is.

      We have always been able to sell all our non-banana crop to Trinidad and also Barbados. Because of government interference that trade has been badly damaged.

      It has been ULP policy to abandon agriculture in favour of tourism. Instead of running both they wanted agriculture to end and tourism to take over.

      Farming pays little in taxes whereas tourism is easier to tax and be able to collect those taxes from.

      But agriculture employed a lot of people and helped feed the people and cut the need for some of our imports.

      One of the problems we have faced is the need for the Gonsalves system to try and reduce everyone to that of peasant. Middle and upper class people can never be converted, without a violent revolution, to Communism. So it is a requisite that the people have to rely on government and not be self employed, unless it is peasant self employed.

      Unfortunately this kind of socialism does not work. Look at Cuba and Venezuela, both with bare shelves in their shops and people starving.

    1. I did read it AL, and I remember that I agreed with at least much of it. At the moment though I forget what it was about. Often I really like Jomo and then there are things that I really do not like. I do nnot like the Reparations issue. Not because I am a white person from Europe and USA but because I do not think that the people of today should pay for injustices of thier ancestors. My ancestors were also treated the same but that is how it is and I cannot change it. The only way to possible approach that issue is by looking at the legacy it has left behind. The Caribbean today has a poor work ethic, lack of pride in the product of whatever your occupation produces, etc… Too many people do not care of the quality of thier work. Even look at the politicians! Most all of them care far more about themselves and relations than they do about ther people, society or economy. People to not strive to create the best possible, they only do “That is good enough”. I believe this comes from colonialism.
      I also do not like that Jomo is way too preoccupied with the black race. I agree harmony for all of us is more important. In truth the Chinese and most orientals, were treated as badly as blacks in US History but that is never mentioned by anyone.
      I strongly disagree with Jomo’s economics. Socialism just does not work and it never has, ESPECIALLY IN SVG!!! First Socialism promotes a bad work ethic that those that are lazy are able to get something for nothing while the productive people are punished (with high taxes) for being hard-working and productive. We already have a bad work-ethic. Socialism requires a large EMPLOYED work force to pay all the taxes to pay for all those that cannot work or refuse to. WE DO NOT HAVE A LARGE EMPLOYED WORK FORCE.
      I should also add that we do nnot have many socialist benefits! Countries that HATE socialism have far more socialist benefits than SVG. Our economy is TOTALLY MESSED-UP!
      I could get into these topics more but I will not.
      If you read James H. and Jolly Green they seem to know what they are talking about in economics and other topics but I do not agree with them much in Geo-Political Foreign Policy and Relations. I think you may be more aware than they are in those areas.
      Many people base thier opinion only on what they read on the internet and what may SEEM to be true but in my experience it is often FAKE NEWS. I may not like certain other governments in the world but I disagree with the USA thinking they have the right to covertly cause overthrows in order to get control of those countries. I have on a few occasions had first-hand experience with elements in the US Government that do that and I feel sickened just knowing it and feel uncomfortable when intelligent people defend it. At least Jomo is also against the interventions.
      Venezuela should easily be the wealthiest nation on earth but instead are poor from thier stupid system and do not need the greedy USA to make it worse.
      This is all my opinion. We all have an opinion.

      1. i appreciate your views Duke , you said you dont think the people today should pay for their ancestors transgressions but how come the Jews are able to sue the German companies and get rewarded for slave labor . Wouldnt that be considered reparations for that group of people?

  4. Here AL is my take on JOMO’s post; The trouble with the decline in wages to those segments, is not as stated, but rather the failure of the Unions themselves and the western departure from Classical Capitalism and the moving into “Welfare Socialism” by the U.S.A, Britain and many of those western countries where Classical Capitalism once took the masses from their drudgery.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAQvUEK2OCw

    What we have today instead in those countries who once gained much prosperity from Classical Capitalism, and where the individual was encouraged to strive, are big interfering governments and much Welfare Socialism.

    A Welfare Socialism where slothful and feckless individuals receive benefits just for their being in existence, while Government bureaucracies expand themselves. Thus increasing the tax burden on both companies and individuals.

    Jobs therefore for sure, have migrated to those areas where there are less state welfare, more individual encouragement to personal prosperity and indeed less tax burdens. Areas such as China, where a Communist state apparatus encourages Classical Capitalism, imposes less taxes and provides less “Social Welfare” encouraging sloth.

    Why therefore should anyone be at all surprise, that the Jobs and wages in the once Capitalist West, have thus declined, when both the workers and the Governments are failing in pursuing Classical Capitalism, Classical Capitalism that once delivered prosperity for all?

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