Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Saboto Caesar says the 2024 Budget, which was approved in Parliament last week, includes 24 areas of transformation of the sector.
These include the introduction of the cultivation of white potato (“English potato”) and the establishment of nine value chains, including livestock, tree crops, banana and plantain, and vegetables.
“As we speak, and I’m advised by the chief agriculture officer, there is a container load of English potato seeds — 400 sacks — on the way so that we can establish white potato production here in our country,” he told Parliament on Tuesday, during the Budget Debate.
“And we’re doing this against the backdrop that currently we import … $5 million worth of white potatoes,” he said, noting that the staple is being grown in Dominica and in large quantities.
“And in 2024 we are going to develop English potato production here in our country,” he said.
The Ministry of Finance has allocated EC$27 million of the EC$1.6 billion budget “for the farmers and fishers of this country,” Caesar told lawmakers.
“I want for the farmers and fishers who are listening to soak this up,” he said, adding that a project started in 2023 under which poultry farmers were getting their day-old chicks.
“There will be greenhouses which will be built; persons will be receiving sheep and goats and cattle,” the minister told lawmakers.
“The fishermen, they usually say from time to time that their fortunes have changed for the better since you have the fish aggregating devices. Well, you’re going to have more of those. Fertiliser will be distributed to the farmers and [motorised] hand tools.”
He said the ministry will improve the services provided by the Farmers Support Company so that they will help farmers with business plans and connect them with lending institutions and help to build producer groups.
“And we are going to hire in 2024 developmental experts to help unlock close to $50 million agreed in principle from private lending institutions,” Caesar said.
He said that this year, the ministry will launch nine value chains, adding that “excellent work” was done in 2023 in dasheen production.
“This year, we are going to build out value chains in livestock. Because there is a significant demand for livestock locally and also in the region,” he said.
“Persons are calling St. Vincent and Grenadines for livestock and I want to commend the Cattle Farmers Association formed and is doing excellent work in response…”
Caesar said his ministry will ensure that through artificial insemination and World Bank funding that cattle production and productivity is increased to ensure local food security as well as export.
“We also will be establishing a tree crops value chain to address spices, avocados, breadfruit and coconuts, particularly,” he said, adding that many trees were lost as a result of the April 2021 eruption of La Soufriere.
“We will also be developing a banana and plantain value chain because with the coming on stream of the hotels we will have to produce quality fruits here in St. Vincent and Grenadines and we continue to export to the region.”
He said 98% of the root crops imported by Trinidad and Tobago come from SVG, adding that diversifying the trade is important.
The minister said that as part of building out a vegetables value chain discussions were held recently with persons who are doing the purchasing at Sandals Resort.
“And when you look at the volumes that we will be purchasing and the volumes that we have aggregated because of the exponential increase in the tourism sector, we have to increase the production of vegetables.”
Caesar said work will be done in horticulture production, adding, “There is going to be a need for us to produce more cut flowers.”
Work is also being done in apiculture (beekeeping) and sea moss production.
“So, our farmers who are listening. I want you to be focused on the fact that there is an opportunity for you to participate in production and also to diversify.”
He said that in addition to arrowroot, the new starch factor to be built in Orange Hill will be used to process flour cassava, dasheen, plantains and other produce.
Caesar said Budget 2024 will also create the framework for the establishment of a land bank.
He said the FSC will help to match landowners and people looking for lands for agricultural production.
Also, the budget allocated money to revamp the way the ministry collects data, he said, adding that people were trained last year to operate drones.
“… In 2024, instead of having the extension officers and the data collectors walking around with a copybook, they will be able to utilise the drone technology and be able to provide more accurate information so that we can have a better and more efficient planning discussion.”
The minister said an agriculture and fisheries census will be conducted this year.
“Yes, we have an exceptional cadre of data collectors, but because of the disruptions caused by the volcanic eruptions, and the droughts, there are person who have moved their production, there are persons who have increased their production in some commodities and reduced in others, and we want to ensure that we capture this information and in 2024 we are going to have a census,” Caesar told Parliament.