Farmers Representative in the Upper House of Parliament, Senator Keith Clouden has blasted the performance of the Keith Mitchell-led administration in St. George’s in agriculture and said that the majority of farmers and fishermen have lost confidence in government’s ability to take the sector forward.
The senator, who is a farmer by profession, highlighted the sentiments of the nation’s farmers at a sitting of the Upper House at the Trade Centre as he contributed to the debate on 2017 budget as presented by the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance on December 9th.
According to Sen. Clouden, the Ministry of Agriculture seems to have abandoned farmers and has been very unresponsive to the needs and the demands of the industry on a whole.
He told the legislative body that there is “great disappointment and frustration” among the farming community over the manner in which government focuses on the agriculture, a sector which is critically important to the economy.
He accused the ruling New National Party (NNP) government of only paying lip service to the Agriculture Sector as was shown in the 2015 budget presentation.
Sen. Clouden recalled that in presenting the 2016 budget on November 25, 2015, the Minister of Finance informed the nation that a Farm Labour Support System will start in early 2016 and that the sum of half a million dollars was allocated to operate the programme.
“Mr. President, that has not happened and we can appreciate why the nation’s farmers are so very disappointed and frustrated,” he said.
He also feared that the farmers might be getting another “bramble” from the Mitchell government in the current budget to provide support to those who incurred losses due to heavy rainfall during the month of November.
According to Sen. Clouden, it was he who had to personally telephone the Ministry of Agriculture and ask them to mobilise the extension services officers to assess and document the damages suffered by farmers.
“Mr. President …. Let me quote what the Minister of Finance said regarding farmers’ losses then. Quote,
“Mr. Speaker, our government is very sympathetic to the plight of farmers who lost crops and income as a result of the heavy rains. As a consequence, we have allocated the sum of 1 million dollars, as an emergency relief fund for the losses they would have sustained.”
The farmer’s representative in the Senate would like to see the farmers getting their cheques from government and that the promise made was not another “bramble”.
“I can point out endless examples of government’s promises to farmers that have not been kept and budget allocations in which the figures are merely on paper and not one cent being expended”, he said.
“Mr. President because of (this) modus operandi, farmers have simply lost confidence in government’s ability to create an enabling environment to facilitate and to move the agriculture sector forward in a viable and sustainable way…they have lost confidence in them for that,” he added.
Sen. Clouden attributed the moderate growth seen in the agriculture sector in the last financial year to the efforts of some farmers who were able to withstand the challenges faced in the industry.
In looking ahead, the Lower House member called on the Mitchell regime to actively engage farmers in looking at a number of things that can give the sector the boost it needs.
He cited the need for the establishment of a homegrown Crop Insurance Scheme, as well as a Corporate Agricultural Input Supply System for the industry.
“We cannot wait for FAO and the international people, we must develop (the Crop Insurance Scheme) and we as farmers are prepared to contribute towards that scheme”, he said.
On the Corporate Agricultural Input Supply System, Sen. Clouden said this has become necessary as “we cannot rely on those agricultural inputs that exist today – their interests are not the same as ours”.
He also advocated the need for the putting in place of a Corporative Farm Machinery Pool in order to better equip the sector so as to be responsive to the needs of farmers.
“We as farmers we have lost confidence. The government has demonstrated their inability to meet the demands of the sector and we would have to take it upon our shoulders as farmers and farmers’ organisations to do that. Hence, the reason we are calling on these corporations to be set up and not only to be set up but it would help circulate the finances,” he remarked.
In recent years, agriculture has been overtaken by tourism as the lead sector in Grenada in terms of employment creation and the generation of revenue for the economy.