For farmers and fisher folk and value chain stakeholders in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the COVID-19 pandemic is “a test of biblical proportion,” says Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar.
He, however, told Parliament on Tuesday that with the fall off in the tourism sector, his government expect that a significant number of persons will move to agriculture.
He noted that the EC$74 million supplementary budget is allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture’s recurrent expenditure of EC$3 million and capital expenditure of EC$6.25 million.
“The total sum of the recurrent and capital expenditure amounts to $9.25 million, which is 13% of the total supplementary estimates,” Caesar said.
Caesar said the Ministry of Agriculture’s recurrent and capital allocation in Budget 2020 had been EC$48 million.
“At that point, the recurrent expenditure was 23 million and capital expenditure 25 million,” he said, adding that the supplemental allocation moved the budget to EC$57 million.
The ministry has been allocated 28% of the total recurrent expenditure as outlined in the supplementary estimates, and the sum of $3 million will be allocated accordingly.
He said some persons might ask why agriculture has been given such a large allocation.
“We are aware that immediately that we have a situation which causes significant output, capital output as it relates to healthcare,” he told lawmakers, adding that this “has to be juxtaposed against the need to continue life and living”.
Caesar said he was supportive of the statement by the Opposition Leader Godwin Friday and Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves that with the fallout from tourism, there will be demand for employment.
“And it is envisaged that with such a large allocation in Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Rural Transformation, importantly, Industry, that we will see a lateral movement of some workers who hitherto or engaged purely in tourism into some of these different areas,” the minister said, referring to this portfolio.
He told Parliament that before the impact of the pandemic, agriculture stakeholders were “grappling with the vagaries of climate change”, noting the impact on the sector of the ongoing drought.
“And what is more, Mr. Speaker is that while we are here addressing the crafting and presentation of supplementary estimates, in the Ministry of Agriculture, we have been advised that we can expect an active hurricane season since one is predicted for 2020.
“So when I speak about God’s enduring mercies, I am speaking about that within this context,” Caesar said, adding that “life and living cannot stop” during the pandemic.
The agriculture minister recognised the work of the nation’s fishers, farmers, and traffickers (itinerant traders in agricultural produce) “who continue to ensure that even in this very dark moment, that life and living continues.
“We have witnessed so far, Mr Speaker, in 2020, in the first two months, an increase in export volumes of agricultural produce by 45%,” he said.
He added that SVG has not missed a shipment of agricultural produce to Trinidad, and commended, among the persons who made this happen, his counterpart in Port of Spain, Clarence Rambharat.