Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
House of Assembly
Release Date:
Thursday, 7 March 2024 - 12:09pm







Apologies from Premier

I am thrilled that the decision was taken to begin our series of Agriculture Exhibitions on Virgin Gorda. It is yet another opportunity for Virgin Gorda to lead, as you have from time to time over the years, in various areas such as tourism, music and bee keeping (apiculture), to name a few.

Today is significant as it begins a series of activities in March that will highlight and celebrate the importance of agriculture and fisheries to the Territory. Unlike previous years, when we had an agriculture and fisheries week, this year the activities continue throughout the month. With a week, the exhibitions on Tortola would take place over the weekend and every other island would be fit in the following week. This year, every island will have a weekend of its own and I trust that this new approach would allow residents from the featured island, as well as other islands, to come out and support exhibitions wherever they are held. I commend, the Director, Mr. Theodore James, and his team at the department for this new initiative.

Spreading the exhibitions over a month has allowed us to plan other activities on days in between. On March 13th we will have a community conversation/symposium among farmers and interested persons on regenerative agriculture, that is agriculture that focuses on building the soil, using climate resilient approaches, composting and best use of water to name a few. We will also have a session for students where they will have the opportunity to learn about what is available as far as post-secondary agricultural education in the region through presentation from selected schools. Gourmet dinners featuring all locally produced products and tours such as you would have today, where we will be able to see where our food come from, are also on the month’s menu.

This government, led by Honourable Dr. Natalio Wheatley, is committed to food security and food sovereignty. We do admit that the Virgin Islands has gone off track in production of agriculture and fisheries. Like many other countries we went from a place where agriculture was the leading sector and we were largely self-sufficient in what we ate, to a point where nearly all of our food is imported. The decision of the territory to pursue tourism as a development strategy has had tremendous benefits to the Virgin Islands and resulted in a lot of what we cherish today as far as our way of life. However, it also had its negative effect as many of our young persons in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, gradually, and at times rapidly, turned away from or agriculture and moved toward tourism. This left much of our agricultural lands bare without the sufficient labour needed to produce. In many cases, this also resulted in the loss of knowledge relative to agriculture due to lack of willing younger persons for elders to pass on their knowledge.

This government is committed to reversing that trend and fully realize that it can only be successful if a multifaceted approach is taken. For us to increase agricultural and fisheries production in the territory it cannot be solely the job of government or solely the work of the farming and fishing communities, but we must work in tandem and along with other stakeholders to achieve our desired goal.

To achieve our goal of significantly increased production, I believe we must move forward on three key pillars: engagement and cooperation of farmers and fishers, training and development, including developing the next generation of farmers and fishers and, government policies and programmes to support the sector.

Engagement and cooperation of farmers and fishers.

The old saying and song says, “The more we are together the happier we will be.” In agriculture and fisheries the more we work together the more productive we will be. The successful way forward requires cooperation between the department and the producers as well among the farmers and fishers themselves.

The Department must find ways to bring this group together, because when that it is done, good things happen. I got the sense from that benefit when I met with farmers and fishers on each of the four major islands, actually five because I held a meeting on Cooper Island as well.  The department also has a role to play in bringing farmers together for the benefit of the sector. On March 13th, as mentioned earlier, we will have a farming community forum and we hope to ensure that farmers from Virgin Gorda are able to attend.

This will allow farmers to get to know each other and find how they can help each other in their practice. Communication between farmers and fishers may take place face to face meetings, one-on-one interactions, and through other means such as farmers and fishers chats.

At this point, I must pause to recognise and acknowledge the contribution of my political adviser, Mr. Allen Wheatley. Since assuming the role, he has opened up the communication pathways through his famous farmers and fishers’ chats where farmers now have a platform to share successes and frustrations as well as their views on how to make the sector better.

While many share their experiences with others, I must commend one farmer in particular. He is a Virgin Gorda farmer, Mr. Avery “Yoshee” Felicien. He shares whatever he knows with other farmers. Whatever method or approach he finds that is effective, he sends it on the chat: his own videos, YouTube links, Amazon links. He feels that if it has helped me, it can help some other farmer. That is the spirit that is needed in order to move agriculture forward.

Yes government has its role to play, but the energy, the willingness to share and build each other up, is the real factor that will drive agriculture forward in the Virgin Islands. 

Government Policies and Programmes

Our role as government is to facilitate the growth, development and productivity of the sectors. We continue to seek creative ways to do this on the level of policy. We have the Food Security and Sustainability Act which we expect to bring into force during the course of this year.

We are actively working on completing the steps that would be needed to make it a reality. This Act will allow the arm of government to be better engaged and more flexible in dealing with practitioners in the field as we seek to promote and move the industry forward. This will include enhancing our ability to seek funding to support the sector, and when funding is available, to help operators to access it in a transparent manner.

Policies that are created or impacted by other areas of government will also be important. Our Crown Land policies is expected to identify and make available more land for agriculture across the territory.  Here in Virgin Gorda, property at Long Bay has long been identified for farming but I will make my utmost effort to make sure that this becomes a reality in 2024 in an extensive way. I must add that for fishers we expect to make progress on a potential landing site in North Sound.

Our policy concerning water, another important input in the farming process, is currently being drafted and should also positively impact farming and encourage farmers to produce more. Preferential rates for water for farmers will be a key aspect considered in the development of this policy.

The Department of Agriculture and fisheries will be called upon to support farmers more. We must find ways to make the expertise of the department more available to persons in the field. Department staff can also be key in ensuring good practices across the territory.

As they observe what is effective for one farmer, they can help to make that connection with other farmers to ensure that everyone has the ability to learn from each other. In my role as the person responsible for the subject, I will try my utmost to make sure that the Department is better funded in order to carry out the mandate more effectively.

The Department has been playing a role in helping us to benefit from projects that are regionally or internationally based. Over the last year we have benefited from projects that have sought to develop fisherman's associations in the territory. This is an ongoing effort, but we can see some steps moving in the positive direction. Related to that initiative, a team from the VI were able to engage in a fisherman's exchange in Barbados where they were able to see how other fishing sectors operate and they indicated that it was a learning experience for them.

We are also about to begin a project lead by the OECS.

The Project is called “Integrated Landscape Approaches and Investments in Sustainable Land Management in the OECS (OECS-ILM)”.

It will fund;

1. Rainwater catchment and irrigation systems for five farming plots in Paraquita Bay

2. ⁠Compost bins for 5 farming plots in Paraquita Bay

3.  Agriculture workshops to be delivered through HLSCC

4. ⁠A five-day workshop to develop a sustainable land management toolkit for agriculture and land use map for Paraquita Bay

5. ⁠A hydroponics facility at Paraquita Bay and associated training

Developing the Next Generation of Farmers and Fishers

My final point may in fact be the most important we must work purposefully towards the development of the next generation of farmers and fishers individuals who will run this industry must be encouraged, nurtured and trained.

I must recognise the group of youngsters and their support team who came from the Elmore Stoutt High School to attend today's activities. These are the young persons who were responsible for the agriculture and food exhibition recently held at the Elmore Stoutt High School on Tortola. As a part of the month’s activity, we will have a forum where they will learn more about opportunities to pursue their education in this field. We also expect to develop scholarship opportunities for them.  

Today’s tours are a start. Farms are at various stages of development, but individuals have been putting out effort in spite of great challenges and we would like you to see what they have been doing. In essence we want you to see where your local foods come from. Participating farms include Agri Paradise in North Sound and Ian Jospeh/Kellon Cuffy operation in the Valley, both hydroponic farms. The farm at Rosewood Little Dix Bay, Yoshee’s farm and Bongo’s farm are also taking part.

I thank the farming and fishing communities, all vendors, the Team from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and all you for coming out.