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An iWN file photo of a farm in St. Vincent affected by drought (IWN photo)
An iWN file photo of a farm in St. Vincent affected by drought (IWN photo)

The Cabinet of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has established a Drought Preparedness Committee, as drier weather remains in the forecast.

“I cannot emphasise more the challenge that a drought and the oncoming drought is going to pose to our farmers,” Minister of Agriculture, Saboto Caesar said during the Budget Debate.

He said that after the volcanic eruption of April 2021, farmers planted three cycles of crops, each of which had low yields.

“… and when you need an encouragement to push on, NEMO is telling us and advising us that for the first six months of this year, when you look at the weather, there are going to be some very dry weeks, days and possibly months,” the agriculture minister said.

He said the Cabinet decided to get ahead of the situation.

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“We’re not just gonna sit down and let the drought come and we sit it out. So, Budget 2024, we are going to ensure that we provide the [water] tanks, we’re going to assist, as we usually do, in taking water to livestock.”

The minister said the government will also provide drought-tolerant seeds and technical support based on the agro-ecological zone in which farms are located.

“And we are going to have a monitoring exercise and system in place to monitor zone by zone, district by district, region by region in this country, for the impact of the drought,” Caesar said.

“It is one thing to come and talk about climate change, but it’s a whole different thing when you actually have to do the work to mitigate and also to adapt,” he said.

Saboto Caesar 2
Minister of Agriculture, Saboto Caesar speaking during the Budget Debate on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 20234.

Presenting the EC$1.6 billion Budget, Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves said the lasting economic effects of the volcanic eruptions of April 2021 are most acutely felt by our farmers.

“Apart from being driven from their lands for months, the sheer volume of ash that coated their farms has proven to be a severe impediment to improved production.”

Gonsalves said that in the 1979 eruption, less intense ash fall actually helped soil fertility and agricultural production as back then, the ash mixed with the soil.

“In the aftermath of 2021, in the hills of the Red Zone, impenetrably thick layers of ash sat atop the soil, or mixed in such volumes as to significantly affect soil composition.”

The finance minister said farmers are reaping peanuts, other root crops and some vegetables to find that they are significantly smaller and less healthy than they were before the eruption.

“Further, repeated and severe droughts have hamstrung production and recovery,” he said.

Gonsalves said that on the heels of the 2020 drought, the worst in seven decades, the country has withstood multiple years of excessive heat and insufficient rain, as rainfall as 2023 rainfall also remained below historical averages.

“Yet, despite these challenges and impediments, there is considerable cause for optimism,” Gonsalves said, adding that the minister of agriculture is spearheading “an unprecedented effort to boost agricultural production” in the country.

“At the centrepiece of that effort is a one-year direct injection of over $27 million worth of tools, supplies, equipment and livestock into the hands of farmers and fishers.”

Last year, the Government announced this $27 million programme as one of the “Fresh Initiatives” of Budget 2023.