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We can no longer afford to ignore agricultural development

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Fri, Mar 9. 2012

Agriculture in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the entire Caribbean has been experiencing very hard times over the past two decades. These have been close to 20 years of pain, suffering and the resultant frustration brought about by a combination of a rapidly changing global trade environment for which we were obviously ill-prepared, a succession of pest and climatic disasters and our own weaknesses.{{more}}

The plus side of this is that it has at last begun to dawn on us that we can no longer afford to ignore agricultural development, even if we have not significantly changed our attitude to this vital aspect of our very lives. The skyrocketing prices of agricultural goods, imported and locally produced, have forced us to sit up and pay attention.

In this climate of decreasing importance of agriculture, more and more of our farmers have seen no other alternative but to make a rapid exit. The numbers have plummeted drastically in direct proportion to the perceived bleak future. The environment has not been enhanced by those who seem not to understand that the “new opportunities” should build on our proven capabilities but who pronounce the death warrants for agriculture. Small wonder that our young people are being re-directed elsewhere!

In this situation, the plight of bananas has served, not to educate us about the tribulations and opportunities in the global trading environment, but to give us a negative view of our own capabilities to survive and thrive in the ‘climate change’ that has enveloped trade in agricultural commodities.

It is therefore most refreshing to have a new Minister of Agriculture who seems not only to have the enthusiasm, but the wherewithal to infuse new energy into this neglected area of our very being. True, he comes with rural, background and academic credentials, but so have many others before him, of different political persuasions, who can be faulted, not for being unable to solve problems beyond their own remit, but for at least failing to inspire confidence in the farming community that we can overcome these challenges and re-launch our agriculture on a new plane.

Minister Caesar has at least started in that direction. It is way too early to pronounce a successful outcome, but his outreach to the vital ingredient in the industry, the farmers, his ebullience and infusion of confidence augur well for the future. The renewed efforts to tackle the crippling Black Sigatoka disease and hands-on approach can only serve to, at a minimum, reassure those who were despairing, and to be most optimistic, encourage those who had given up hope, to think again.

Many of the problems we face as a people are not of our own creation, but the manner in which we respond to them is certainly something over which we have absolute control. Defeatism in the face of surmountable challenges serves us no useful purpose. We must continue to absorb the simple words of President Obama that “YES, WE CAN” . Minister Caesar and his ministry, and our farmers and their organisations deserve our full support. Our future depends on it.

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