Opposition Senator Israel Bruce, on Saturday outlined to farmers the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) plans to address a number of issues affecting the agricultural sector.
“We will deal with the roads; we will respond to the problem of the thievery of your animals; we will cut out the fake ID Cards that they give to people who are not farmers; we will make an effort by putting together a marketing team for agricultural products and make sure we get cracking,” Bruce told the NDP’s “Village Stop” in Chapmans.
“I am talking to you about a plan that will respond to your concerns. We in the New Democratic Party are ready to get it done,” said Bruce, who will be the NDP’s candidate in South Central Windward, where Chapmans is located.
Bruce, who is the opposition’s shadow spokesperson for agriculture, fisheries, forestry, industry and labour, told the village and media audiences that as an agricultural community Chapmans will play a significant role in the economy of the country, as agriculture is one of the NDP’s four pillars of the Vincentian economy.
He said that large portions of lands in the village used to be under cultivation.
“Now, what you look and see is under the leadership of the current minister of agriculture, who is our parliamentary representative, it seems to be that he is the minister of grass.”
Bruce said he spent time listening to the people of the village and heard them when they say they are fed up of people stealing their produce and animals.
“Under the Unity Labour Party, under the leadership of Saboto Caesar, the harvest of agricultural produce right here in Chapmans is ripe, but the reapers are not few; they are too many,” Bruce said.
“That nonsense of people stealing, thieving your crops and your animals have got to come to an end.”
The senator said he has discussed with the leadership of the NDP a six-point plan to address praedial larceny in the village, constituency and the country.
An NDP government will reintroduce the rural constable programme to provide protection for farmers, Bruce said.
The ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration introduced and then subsequently disbanded the programme, saying that it had failed.
The government said that many of the rural constables never made an arrest even as some of them were little more than chefs in the police stations to which they were assigned.
However, Bruce said the programme failed because the ULP administration does not care about farmers.
The senator said that if the government cared, they would have ensured that the constables were either under an autonomous department of the police force or under the leadership of a senior police officer — an inspector, for example.
Bruce further said the government would have provided resources to that department so that when a farmer makes a report, the police could respond immediately.
“Not a constable saying to you, we have to wait on a vehicle from the regular police and then the regular police say we don’t have any vehicle to come to your assistance. So, we will deal with that problem.”
Bruce said he will pilot a bill in Parliament to stiffen the penalties for stealing crops and animals.
“So, I am sending a clear message tonight to the thieves that I, Israel Randolph Bruce, will stand in the vanguard and fight for the farmers of Chapmans, South Central Windward and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Bruce, who is also a lawyer, said farmers have to wait too long for justice when people are caught stealing their produce when they are destroyed by animals.
He said he would advise that the government has a court that sits often enough and special enough to deal with matters of agricultural theft.
He said people talk about who has or does not have plans and who is stealing the other’s plans.
“Well, I am not the minister. I am the shadow minister,” Bruce said. “So, I want the minister of agriculture to listen to me tonight and borrow from those plans, activate them and get Chapmans, South Central Windward and St. Vincent and the Grenadines working. Let’s get it done.”
He said that if he cannot, based on resources, convince his colleagues to establish a police unit to serve the farming district, he will try to make a mobile unit so that the response would be quicker.
“… thieves of your plants and animals will have no rest under our government,” Bruce said.
He said the sixth and final prong of his plan is to confiscate farmers’ IDs in the possession of people who are pretending to be farmers.
“Because when those persons who are not legitimate farmers find themselves with produce or animals that are stolen, they then flash the ID and say yes, ‘I am a farmer, so is my animals and is my crops’ and they sell them on,” Bruce said.
“Those who are in government now who are facilitating non-farmers getting farmers ID, you are contributing to praedial larceny and it must stop and it must stop now.
He said farmers are meeting it hard because they cannot find markets for their produce even as in Tortola – where about one-fifth of the population are Vincentians — a lot of the agricultural produce comes from Central America.
Bruce said that if Caesar cares about the farmers, “he would get up off his backside and go to places like Tortola and find markets for the farmers…
“The farmers should go and concentrate on producing; the government, meaning the ULP government, and indeed, Saboto Caesar, should go and find markets for the farmers of Chapman, but they refuse to do it.”
Bruce said that if elected to office, on day 1, he would put together a team that will start looking at marketing the country’s agricultural produce.
He said roads leading to the farm lands are in the worst state they have ever been and the government has not budgeted any money for their repair one year after farmers highlighted them in a consultation.
“That tells you that they don’t care about the farmers of Chapmans, South Central Windward. What a government!” Bruce said.