It is unfortunate that a foreign chef has to bring back on the national agenda for discussion the serious lack of support by government to the key agriculture sector on the island.
The international chef who is associated with the newly opened Silver Sands Resort called for more support from government to the dwindling agriculture sector to keep alive the burning desire of many to see a true marriage between tourism and agriculture for real and serious development in the country.
The Chef lamented the fact that hotels are forced to contribute to the rising food import bill as they often have no choice but to purchase items from overseas to satisfy guests in the face of shortages on the local market.
As the Chef said, Grenada needs to invest heavily in systems that can produce a reliable supply of local produce through green and hot houses to deal with variations in weather conditions.
It cannot be disputed that the two past governments which took strong progressive steps in agriculture over the years were the Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) administration of the Father of Independence, Sir Eric Matthew Gairy and the 1979-83 People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) of executed leader, Maurice Bishop.
The late educator George Brizan also had a passion for agriculture when he served in the 1990-95 Congress government of Sir Nicholas Brathwaite.
However, the same cannot be said of the New National Party (NNP) of Dr. Keith Mitchell who has been given the longest run as Prime Minister since independence in 1974.
Prime Minister Mitchell has paid nothing but lip service to agriculture as he seemingly prefer to go after short-term projects and initiatives that can bring in quick and ready cash like passport selling and informatics like Call Centers.
The NNP as a regime has never pursued any meaningful programme that is based on long-term and sustained growth of the agriculture sector.
The Mitchell-led government made a very bad decision to give a government-owned farm to a group of revolutionaries who spent many years incarcerated at the Richmond Hill prison for the murder of Prime Minister Bishop in October 1983.
The revolutionaries had no known training in agriculture but were given a prime government estate to run and develop into a worthwhile venture.
Today, there are reports that the farm has been abandoned and is taken over by an individual known to be associated with the Jab Jab entertainment industry and all the crops on the estate are being destroyed by roaming animals including cows.
The Marketing & National Importing Board (MNIB), a creature of the revolutionary government, has become a dismal failure with a series of bad management put in place that lacked the vision to provide the platform for farmers to use as an outlet for their produce over the years.
Government has clearly fallen short when it came to putting in place systems and corrective measures to seriously gel agriculture with tourism to develop a strong economy for the island.
Agriculture has not gotten its fair share of the “pie” from the NNP government when it comes to allocation of funds to develop and grow the sector.
Prime Minister Mitchell has chosen Information Technology (IT) over agriculture and the result has nothing been short of disastrous for the country.
A lot of hype was made over the CKLN programme involving Ken Sylvester, a Grenadian living in Jamaica and millions were accumulated through the programme.
The Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network (CKLN) was being promoted as an inter-governmental agency of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) responsible for developing and managing a high capacity, broadband fiber optic network called C@ribNET, connecting all CARICOM member states.
The CKLN agency was first proposed in 2002 at a meeting between the 7 Prime Ministers of Eastern Caribbean States and Barbados who met with the then President of the World Bank and established the body in 2004 as an institution of CARICOM, under the authority of Article 21 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
The CKLN was supposed to do among other things:-
*to allow participating learning institutions to both offer and receive distance learning courses and other online services for the benefit of students in the region
*provide Caribbean-wide satellite network (E wide satellite network (E -LINKS Americas), that will connect all Tertiary Institutions in the region wishing to join the network, and provide access to other global networks and knowledgebase.
*Provide Wireless network (Wi -FI) for each college campus.
Millions came in through this initiative. Where is CKLN today and what has it done to improve the Information Technology platform in Grenada?
As lead Prime Minister in the Caribbean for Science and Technology, Dr. Mitchell attempted to mobilise the whole of Grenada and the rest of the Caribbean around CKLN and today no one ever hears the name CKLN mentioned again.
It seems to have been a dismal failure despite the region getting millions of dollars to spend on it.
The Mitchell government did not spend one single dime from the millions generated through CKLN on trying to create a marriage between Agriculture and Technology for the future development of the country.
The CKLN provided an opportunity to purchase Chain Saws and Weedeaters to clean up the whole country and replace those primitive tools like cutlass and forks with modern technology to bolster agriculture.
For instance, a portion of the CKLN funds could have been used to introduce technology to monitor the farms and help reduce the increasing incidences of praedial larceny that has been a major source of concern for farmers over the years.
No one should be surprised that the drum keeps beating that nothing has really been done to seriously and meaningfully address the marriage of agriculture and tourism to help grapple with the annually rising food import bill.