STATEMENT BY DEPUTY PREMIER AND
MINISTER FOR NATURAL RESOURCES AND LABOUR
DR. THE HON. KEDRICK D. PICKERING
THE STATE OF AGRICULTURE IN THE TERRITORY
JULY 6TH 2015
Madame Speaker, the development of the Agricultural Industry is a key factor in the Territory’s move towards food security. However, there is a need to recognize the fact that times have changed and there are many challenges facing this Industry and thus we must employ appropriate strategies that will mitigate those challenges. The development that our Territory has experienced during the past few decades has brought with it increased demand for many things, including food. The Territory’s current landscape is very different from what it was a couple of generations ago. Those were the days when agriculture was the backbone of the Territory’s economy and the hillsides were covered with ground provision such as cassava, potatoes, bananas and other crops. Not to mention the herds of cattle and other small ruminants such as sheep and goats. It might be difficult to conceive that at one time the Territory actually exported sugar, cotton and other agricultural products to the neighboring United States Virgin Islands and even further afield.
Madame Speaker, those were the days, but we are now faced with new realities; climate change and the negative impacts thereof have forced us to alter our perspective on current issues. While it is somewhat difficult to prognosticate the overall effects of climate change on agriculture, we are relatively certain that changes in the frequency and severity of droughts, due to climate change, pose serious challenges for farmers making it more difficult to grow crops and raise animals. The effects of climate change will undoubtedly, impact agricultural production negatively and force us to adapt a technological model of production and abandon, even though not entirely, some of the antiquated methods of farming.
Madame Speaker, we take this opportunity to recognize the stalwart farmers of this Territory who, in the face of much difficulty, have continued to do their best to keep the Industry alive. There are some 200 plus registered farmers who, in varying degrees, continue to produce crops and livestock. As a result of some of the challenges faced, livestock farmers have since the 1980s shifted their focus from ruminant production of cattle, goats and sheep to that of poultry and pigs. Today, there is less arable land available for crop farming and pastures for livestock. In addition, climate change has altered the weather patterns and as a result we are experiencing sparse rainfall leaving us in a prolonged period of drought. Agriculture is an industry that requires water regardless of the type of production and without adequate rainfall, farmers, and in particular livestock farmers, will continue to face the unsurmountable task of providing food for their animals.
Madame Speaker, these challenges have not gone unnoticed. The Ministry and the Department of Agriculture have engaged in a programme of assisting the farming community in these difficult times. Specifically, we have contracted with individuals to deliver water to the farm as well as installed pipes to get water to some of the more remote areas on Paraquita Bay. We have also purchased water tanks for farmers not located in the Paraquita Bay area. Within the past year we have expended some forty-two thousand, five hundred dollars ($42,500) assisting our farmers. Additionally, and even as we speak, there is a shipment of feed worth some twenty thousand dollars ($20,000) on its way to the Territory for our livestock farmers.
Madame Speaker, our efforts in assisting our traditional farmers will not waiver. The Ministry and Department of Agriculture will continue to provide marketing services in addition to technical advice and agribusiness development guidance. However, if we are to truly achieve food security for the Territory, our focus cannot only be on increasing production but on increasing productivity in the sector. Therefore, the utilization of technology is critical to unleashing the latent potential of the industry. In the last update to this Honourable House, we confirmed our resolve to push forward with the completion of the Greenhouse Project as our Territory’s ability to increase the current level of food production is very much dependent on this technology. Notwithstanding the current unenthusiastic chatter about the state of the greenhouse project, we are poised to move forward in a very meaningful way with a view to having production by end of this year.
Madame Speaker, this current trajectory commenced on the 18th of February, 2015 when International Business and Trade LLC (IBT) representatives, Mr. Christian Munoz and Mr. Pablo Bejarano, visited the Territory to conduct a technical audit of the greenhouses at Paraquita Bay, as well as the storage facility in Fish Bay. According to the IBT representatives, the structural framework of the greenhouses was found to be in excellent condition. The electrical system, while also in good condition, needs to be connected to the grid. The other mechanisms such as the fogger system, irrigation system, thermal screen and covering have deteriorated and need to be replaced. There are some other material that are seemingly in good condition but need to be connected to the hydraulic and electricity supplies in order to be tested. We have recently engaged in an iterative process with IBT with a view to signing a contract for the completion of the Paraquita Bay segment of the project.
Madame Speaker, while we are forging ahead with plans to operationalize the greenhouses, we will simultaneously be restructuring the Department of Agriculture. The current model focuses excessively on operation as opposed to regulation. Therefore, our aim is to have the Department of Agriculture transition into a regulatory body which will call for an increase in the number of technically trained officers in the two main functional areas of extension and quarantine services. This means that we will need more officers trained in veterinary medicine, agronomy, agricultural economics, agricultural science, and horticulture.
Our borders are quite porous in that we are not adequately covering the importation of food items into the Territory. An amplification of the quarantine measures at our ports of entry is critical in light of the current outbreak of Avian Influenza and Moko Disease which can be devastating if they are allowed to take root in the Territory’s food supply.
Madame Speaker, another aspect of the transformed Department of Agriculture is ensuring that farmers, Territory-wide, have access to technical assistance from officers who have been trained to offer such assistance. Therefore, this new structure opens up a number of opportunities for the young people of this Territory who are so inclined. We have already made contact with colleagues in the region as well as the Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International (CABI) headquartered in the United Kingdom with sub-regional office in Trinidad and Tobago. CABI is an international not-for-profit organization that improves people’s lives by providing information and applying scientific expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment. The Territory pays a yearly subscription to this organization which affords us a number of benefits including assistance with policy development. Therefore, we will be tapping into this expertise of this organization for assistance. The Department of Agriculture has a number of legislations in place that are not fully enforced. Therefore, we envisioned this Agricultural Policy as a way of creating some structure around these legislations. Within the next couple of months, we hope to have a consultant in the Territory to engage the farming community and others critical to the development of this Policy and the proper functioning of the Industry.
Madame Speaker, we anticipate that the road ahead might be a difficult one in getting the Department and the Industry to a place where we can begin to reap, as it were, some real benefits. Be that as it may, we again commit to this Honourable House and the people of this Territory that we will stay the course until this job is done.