Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar says that St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is “food secure” but contingencies are needed because of uncertainty about the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“St. Vincent and Grenadines, we are food secure. However, what we do not know in our assessment is how long we anticipate this problem to last. And here’s where we go back to the issue of being proportionate,” he told a joint press conference with Prime Minster Ralph Gonsalves and Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves this week.
“It is important that we note that even if this matter is supposed to end next week, there’s still going to be a need for food,” he said, adding that his ministry’s initial impetus and proposal is to ramp up production.
Caesar said this would be done whether or not the pandemic ends in a week or two.
“In fact, as I noted yesterday, we have a food import bill that we are working very hard to reduce and we have been marginally successful in that. Comparatively, we have been doing excellent work and compared to the other member states in CARICOM but we have to further work to deepen the efforts to reduce our food import bill. And this is an excellent opportunity for us to begin that process,” Caesar told the press conference on Tuesday.
The agriculture minister warned that with the increase in production, there could soon be significant quantities of commodities on the market, which will drive prices down.
“And we would have to find means and ways of exporting some more these commodities. So I just want to underscore that and here’s where the subsidies would have to come in to support those farmers who produce these commodities, because the price for them will be significantly lower. But we are working to address that by increasing our exports,” Caesar said.
He said his ministry has developed an SVG Coronavirus Food Security and Impact Mitigation Plan that was to be presented to Cabinet for further assessment and analysis “with the intention for full and immediate implementation.
“I wish to thank stakeholders in the sector, our agro processors, our farmers, our fishers, owners of supermarkets, the technicians in the ministry for their diligent work over the last week, because to compile a document of this nature over such a short period of time, especially coming out immediately after a budget exercise, when you had a particular plan of action and rate of implementation, and I have to change it immediately, definitely. It was a significant task,” he said.
He said there are different segments of the plan which will be triggered if there is a particular need.
“It is anticipated and we already have evidence that there will be further disruptions in the global food distribution system,” he said.
The minister said that the supplier of fertile eggs imported for use at the hatchery had already informed his ministry that because of significant layoffs and problems with labour, the ministry will not be able to get the consignment that it wants for 2020.
“And if we are able to get it, it will be at a significantly higher price,” Caesar said, adding, “When we speak about disruptions in the global food supply chain, we have to look not only outwards at the extra region, what is happening extra-regionally, but within CARICOM and OECS.”
He said that the Ministry of Labour, another of his portfolios, was monitoring whether supermarkets would be supplied with goods when they order internationally.
“Because that is the mechanism which will trigger us to ramp up our local production,” he said, adding that there is “an immediate response where we are going to increase our production.”
Caesar said that traffickers (itinerant traders in agricultural produce) from Barbados have said that they will continue to purchase produce.
“They want to ensure that the food supply system in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is maintained, and if there are international disruptions, they will demand more food from us,” the minister said.
“I want citizens to be assured that I am confident in the hard work, diligence and dedication of the farmers of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to ensure that we are food secured, even in a time of peril.”
The minister said his ministry has the contact information of every farmer and fisher in the country “because they are going to play a very important role in the unfolding of the production plan that we are going to put in place”.
He said that the government was working to ensuring that the resources necessary to capitalise on this plan will be in place, adding that within 72 hours, his ministry would contact the first group of farmers “to produce those crops that will mature between three and six weeks”.
He further stated that the CARICOM secretariat has given SVG the task to chair a committee to put in place a food security plan for the entire CARICOM region.
“This, again, we have to lead by example and we will be ensuring that every single agriculture teacher in the secondary schools and at the college, farmers, technicians who are at the Ministry, and technicians who are retired, the … agriculture students, we will be calling on you for support.
“And the messages will be transferred and transmitted to the churches and through different cooperatives and groups. I want to thank you very much and for the citizens of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to be aware that we are working hard and that we care,” Caesar said.
Having almost destroyed our agriculture, and most of our farmers ending up working as security guards and other such menial jobs. They now want them to grow more, and produce enough food to feed the Vincentian people.
Yes I am sure the farmers will respond, but lets not forget all the back stabbing over the years. Lets not forget how their hearts were broken when they were told “farming is old fashioned and in the past, now is the time for tourism.”
Thank you folk of the land, thank you for your dedication and your new response to the call to duty, thank you.
Since I am a farmer and I originally come from the USA and I travel on occasion, I can tell everyone exactly why we do not farm very much. I believe the government knows why but for other reasons they refuse to do what is needed to not only increase food production but ALL production in SVG. This includes encouraging investment in all sectors of the economy.
The reason why we do very little farming is because it is not profitable. Taxes, fees, Customs Duties are all WAY TOO HIGH! so people will not work when the wage they earn does not get them much. Farmers give up because they cannot pay those wages and make a profit while at the same time having to worry about drought, pests, thieves, saboteurs as well as price drops.
It is difficult for our supermarkets to buy local pineapple when Costa Rica can sell and transport pineapple to us at half the price. Farm labor in South America averages about 2 US Dollars a day. In Africa it is about $1.50 a day. I am not suggesting we pay our workers so little but when we have to pay 18. US Dollars a day , it is easy to see why we cannot compete. Mexicans work for 6. US$ a day and send money home to Mexico.
The best way for SVG to improve the economy, (and food security) is to first STOP RAISING TAXES!
Soboto Caesar is no dummy. He probably knows this but is not allowed to say anything.
Corona Virus is becoming so out of control around the World we must all do our bit, not just the farmers.
Writers, editors, and readers have a responsibility to ensure the Vincentian people see all sides of what is happening. I am honestly frightened, and anyone who isn’t is stupid or ill informed.
We all have a responsibility to help each other. Read the following and tell me if you agree with my sentiments.
Mr. Minister of Agriculture, there is no vaccine for this virus. You should be warning people to be careful in their daily transactions. I just read on the wire that corona infection leaves some patients with permanent lung tissue damage. Governments are already talking about a new form of lung disease. Saboto, you’re losing on points fast me boy. Shit. There are other factors involved in this Pandemic than food supplies and we don’t believe in voodoo politics.
Kmt… so where the farmers going to speedily market these supposedly plentiful crops which would all likely be perishables? Delivery service? Or for next to nutten to the thieving supermarkets? This is pure politicising of a pandemic… let Ralph talk about healthcare facilities currently in place and where the money coming from to buy food that could last since the best advice is for people to stay at home…that would be interesting
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