Minister of Agriculture, Saboto Caesar. (iWN file photo)

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.

5 replies on “COVID-19 ‘a test of biblical proportion’ for SVG’s agriculture”

  1. Finally the government recognizes that agriculture is the bread-winner of the island, not tourism. It will take more than five years for tourism to pick up to 1/2 of where it fell out. Some countries are telling their citizens to cancel vacations. Those who got caught in this virus fiasco will think twice before leaving their countries.
    I am thinking twice of visiting SVG next year. My yearly visit is on hold until I can see vast improvement in controlling this pandemic. This virus doesn’t know or care if it’s summer. Autumn, winter or spring.
    On the agricultural side it’s time the government build small dams to help farmers during drought periods. These dams can collect most of the water during the rainy seasons to be used later. Put some money into building these dams and don’t allow the grave-diggers to destroy the land by building stone quarries.
    For example Central Leeward has no water problem. That where the entire go when there is water shortage on the island. Yet they are looking at other areas to supply water to SVG. The water from Baga has dirt during rainy seasons, not Central Leeward water. I don’t think Louis is protecting that water, he never did. Is he being selfish, well that another argument for another day? I am sure the Central Leeward people would love to share their water with the nation irrespective of Labour or NDP locations.

  2. What Mr Caesar does not know is that ginger prices in Eastern Europe and Russia are SKY HIGH right now. Normally they do not pay attention to whatever I say. Instead they will continue to sell to Trinidad for 80% less. They laughed at me when I started doing coffee, and it because and still is a much-loved product from SVG. I was telling them for years they need to do far more for “irrigation” (too much to write what I mean by my simplified version of irrigation). I have been advocating forms of irrigation to certain investors as well but they never thought it was important. Too many people cannot notice trends, or recognize how they can insure themselves before during and after considerable agricultural investment, in case of a drought. Those that have irrigation will do well, those that do not, will not; and from what I have seen the government is even LESS interested in irrigation. Maybe now they will get thier act together in that area.

    While we are talking about the bible and ancient times: Does anyone know how we became what we now consider “a civilization”? It was when irrigation started by digging water channels in ancient Sumeria over 4 thousand years before Jesus! The first taxes were levied to afford that irrigation, not for roads! That is information you can read in cuneiform. We closed the irrigation department but maybe now we can begin our civilization. It depends on what the government does. I agree with what Caesar is saying, I am just adding my two cents to it.

  3. Maybe God is indicating to Mr. Caesar (with this drought) that he should not have shut down the irrigation department. I thing Caesar does a great job, but I think water is one of the greatest gifts. I have been repeating that from the very beginning. I NEVER KNEW WE HAD A GOVERNMENT IRRIGATION DEPARTMENT UNTIL IT WAS SHUT DOWN! Maybe instead of shutting it down because of all those people that were owed money, they should have restructured the department.
    Thousands of years before the bible, irrigation is what changed humanity to elevate us more than anything else, to include the invention of the wheel. If we did not have water catchments at this time in SVG we would really be hurting during this drought. Our agriculture will already suffer because of it.
    I am sorry Kenton that I talk about water so often in my comments. I mention on the labels of my coffee that we have some of the greatest water here in SVG. I could write an essay! Some scripture says “Water is life”.
    If we want to use the lessons of today to build a more prosperous future we cannot hope to do so without exploiting but sustainably use of our greatest resource: WATER.

  4. Wha? Again Mr man talking in hypotheticals. Please explain in plain English all the math and what this means to poor people going forward. All I see is figures, ratios, percentages, etc but I don’t see how this translates to helping working folks in this corvid 19 times. So you saying plenty job positions will be filled and you will create more employment and increase your production and exports? How exactly? (Well by employing more people and getting more equipment and better business practices) St. Vincent is a volcanic island with abundant fertile soil. It is only natural that Agriculture is one of the pillars of our economy. Most of the country consists of forest lands ripe for development. We have so much forest and marine territories. We need to exploit the economic potential this lends itself to. If you have 100.000 people but only 40.000 working people then you have a serious problem. But, we need competent level headed people to manage this. To begin you need several committees to access and evaluate the real situation. We need experts in these areas to successfully manage things, build roads and properly map everything. The second thing that has to be done is to create an environment where startups are encouraged and facilitated and, start to put money back in people’s pockets so that they can make a living. Because when this Corvid 19 pass a lot of people will have no jobs. Then we going to see the real world effects of your whimsical ramblings.

  5. I always believe in this minister of agriculture,,,he meant well for SVG,,but sad to say the finance department only now see the importance of agriculture during a crisis,,they are very shortsighted!

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