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To replace agriculture with tourism is a big gamble

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EDITOR: It can never be too late to question the over-zealous policy of the government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to invest the nation’s prime asset – arable lands – in the tourist trade and with little regard for an equally, if not more sustainable trade, such as agriculture.

There is no doubt that tourism has become a lucrative industry in the Caribbean, especially since the demise of its agricultural industry.{{more}}

Caribbean tourism has expanded beyond sun, sand and sea to several other types including festival and music which have reportedly provided Jamaica, for example, with gross foreign exchange of US$ 20.2 billion in 2002.

Further, Caroline Anstey, World Bank Country Director for the Caribbean in a recent report observes that the Caribbean is at a development crossroad and that its member states will have to take significant and concrete steps to improve productivity and competitiveness and face up to a more global competition.

So from the standpoint of ordinary citizens, let us examine some of the issues involved in relying so much on tourism in SVG.

First of all there is the international airport that Prime Minister Gonsalves and others claim is desperately needed.

The financial burden of this project is immeasurable.

To raise funds for this adventure, not only is the government selling off Bequia much in the same way that Mustique and other parts of the SVG were under previous administrations but they seem to be borrowing money from all over the world, with little explanation as to how this debt will be repaid and the cost.

What is the rational for adding yet another international airport to the other three or four within a hundred miles or less of one another (Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia and Guadeloupe)?

To what extent will SVG be able to compete with other islands where the industry is established?

What would happen in the event of a hurricane or terrorist strike?

What became of the SVG-St Lucia plan to share international airports?

The second tourist-driven venture is the trading of Buccament for tourist resort development.

I have heard the argument that nothing was being done with the lands but was there incentive for farmers to make use of these lands?

How different is this strategy that lacks a true commitment to invest in agriculture with that of the previous administration to invest in off-shore banking because young “people not interested in agriculture”?

Apart from earning SVG television spots in Europe, to what real benefit is the Buccament project for ordinary citizens of SVG?

What safeguards do we have to ensure these foreign investors do not make slaves of Vincentians in SVG – working all hours of the night and day and have little or no time to enjoy our lovely sun, sand and beach – while they bank their profits elsewhere using the rules of the World Trade Organisation?

What is preventing government from exploring niche markets in agriculture?

One example that comes to mind is the increasing need for avocado and aloe vera in the cosmetic industry.

Luzette King

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