National Democratic Congress (NDC) Caretaker for the Constituency of St. John, Senator George Vincent, has spoken about what he described as the “scant regard for agriculture” in the country by the ruling New National Party (NNP) administration of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell.
During the weekly NDC press conference Monday, Sen. Vincent pointed to what he regarded as an increased infestation of pest and disease in the country and a lack of timely action on the part of the government to address the issue and the negative impact it was having on farmers.
He spoke of a situation in which one farmer in his constituency who planted six acres of sour soup in the Palmiste, St. John area saw his crop affected by the citrus greening disease (or the “Yellow Dragon Disease, which is abbreviated as HLB).
This is a citrus disease caused by a vector-transmitted pathogen.
According to Dr. Vincent, the farmer had a good production up until three years ago when the disease struck resulting in some of the citrus trees drying up.
“He (the farmer) sought help from the Ministry, the Plant Protection and the Pest Management Unit but samples were taken from his crop (for testing), were sent away and two years now he has been waiting for a response from the Pest Control unit”, he said.
The NDC official pointed out that the farmer has been forced to cut down approximately two acres of his crop resulting in reduced production on the six-acre farm.
“You can imagine the financial stress that this farmer is going through and the financial stress that other farmers are going through because of the lack of support – technical and other wise”, he added.
Dr. Vincent described the citrus greening disease as one of “the worst citrus disease in the world.”
He noted that farmers on the island went into the production of citrus after the passage of Hurricane Ivan in 2004 since it was felt that citrus is one of the most resilient crops against hurricane and high winds.
He said the farmers “told themselves that should another one (hurricane) come it will be alright but they did not tell themselves that a disease would come and we would not get any help to address it.”
Dr. Vincent expressed the view that “agriculture in the country is going through a rough time and government do not seem to care much about the livelihood of the farmers”.
“I am convinced that the lapse cycle of sanitary systems that we have are allowing pest and infestation into the country and are reaping havoc on our farmers”, he remarked.
The Congress official also alluded to reports that the Head of the Pest Management Unit in the Ministry of Agriculture, Paul Graham has been transferred amidst reports of a fall-out with a senior member of the NNP regime.
He said the farmers might not be getting the much-needed attention that they deserve to combat diseases affecting their citrus trees due to “the issue of the technical staff in the ministry being transferred elsewhere and the lack of proper checks at the country’s port of entry”.
“We have learnt that the most professional and Head of the Pest Management department has been transferred to the Ministry of Health…we have heard of reports of folks at the airport being instructed to ignore plants and certain sanitary conditions for stuff coming into the country…We have heard in the Parliament issues of sour soup seeds being brought into the country illegally.
Dr. Vincent also charged that the 2016 budget made provisions for EC$500, 000 for a Farm Labour support programme but the Ministry of Agriculture has indicated that to date “not a single farmer has received any assistance under that programme”.
He called on the Mitchell-led government to “provide the necessary technical and professional support for the industry since agriculture is our life blood and it is going to be the base, the pillar on which we build.”
Dr. Vincent also told reporters it was time for government to embark upon initiatives that will get the youths more interested in agriculture.
“Expose them to professional farming, with experienced farmers and try to help them to take farming and agriculture seriously and stop arbitrarily transferring professionally trained experts in their field to other areas so that there is continuity and a level of professionalism to support the agriculture industry and all other industries particularly the productive sector,” he said.
He urged government to provide subsidies “for our hard working farmers,” since “no where in the world is agriculture not subsidized”.
“The dairy and milk farmers of Europe are subsidised, the wheat and the corn farmers of Canada and the US are being subsidised and we are asking our farmers to produce and increase production without providing technical and financial support”, he said.
Dr. Vincent addressed a report from the Grenada Cocoa Association, which alluded to a serious reduction in production in 2015 over 2014,wth the Board of Directors attributing the drop to Climate Change.
“I have asked what are you doing to address the situation and people are getting defensive,” he said.
Stating that over the last two years farmers have not been getting a bonus from the Grenada Cooperative Nutmeg Association (GCNA), Dr. Vincent pleaded with government to provide a grant for the industry no matter how small.
“Farmers are accustomed to Christmas bonuses which they usually use to reinvest in their farms”, he said.
In recent years, agriculture has been replaced by tourism as the major foreign exchange earner for the island, as well as provider of new jobs.