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Agriculture after Tomas

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by Oscar Allen 16.NOV.10

Agriculture after Tomas can be better than agriculture before Tomas. I believe God has that in mind for us, but it is we who have to do it. These three technical steps will help move our agriculture forward at this time. They are: Recover, Restructure, Regionalise.{{more}}

Step One, Recover after Tomas

To recover means to bring our cultivators and cultivations out of depression to a quick and sound and robust health. A rapid re-cultivation calls for the following:

1. A genuine caring for and confidence in our cultivator

2. Roving tree cleaning brigades to remove fallen and broken trees and branches from farmland and fixtures.

3. 100 or so re-cultivation teams, effectively incentivised, each with 10 persons spread from Windward through Mespo to Leeward. Co-ordinating this programme requires a composite national agency; the bureaucracy of the Ministry of Agriculture and the ruling party alone cannot do it. In one month, near 2000 acres of cultivation can be restored to life.

4. A charcoal-making project, using movable kilns, should be operated by the Forestry Division. They have the technology. By year end, they could have an estimated 100 tons of charcoal.

5. Similarly, perhaps along with one or two hardware distributors, forestry could supervise teams which they have trained and turn some trees to lumber.

6. The “greenhouse tunnels” which the department of agriculture controls, can be rapidly repaired and fully deployed to offer 1/2 million (500,000) ready-to-plant vegetable seedlings in one month. Some fruit and timber crop seedlings can be ready later.

The rapid re-cultivation crusade to support and re-motivate us as farmers is the first step forward. The next step is to restructure our agriculture.

Step Two: Restructure after Tomas

A forward marching agriculture must bring new structure to our practices, to the mix of products that we cultivate. For example, we will need to:

  • Develop some Best Practices for Caribbean agriculture, so as to stabilise our soil, renew the natural environment and turn agro-waste and nature’s gifts into farm energy and inputs.
  • Engage and invite school classes to become guest – interns, as we recover and consolidate our cultivations.
  • Maintain a high respect for the agro-workforce that may carry out with us the high intensity re-cultivation, lumberjack, charcoal-making and other activities. A new wage and productivity of labour consensus must be consolidated to the benefit of worker and farmer. Agro-labour must be revitalised.
  • Organise with other stakeholders like consumers, processors, distributors to forecast the variety and scale and schedule of our output and put in place reliable supply and demand mechanism.
  • Consider matching our farm output with the foods that make up our “Dietary Guidelines” in the CFNI breadfruit. In other words, aim at broad Food and Nutrition Security as a national agricultural goal. Along the same line, we should get on board the “Nutracentical” train, producing and promoting food items which make a high contribution to disease prevention and remediation.

Agriculture after Tomas calls for innovations on the farm, innovative farmer management and organisation, and new structures to relate with other stakeholders. Tomas must shake us up to communicate and travel outside our normal mountain road, farm gate market place and waiting for the announcement about what the government or Winfarm want from us, or is giving us. We too can govern our sector. The National Farmers’ Union used to say something like this. “When farmers limit ourselves to toiling in the land and selling at the roadside, we damage ourselves. We too are policy makers, investors and world changers”.

Step Three: Regionalise our Agriculture

The National Commercial Bank is becoming a junior partner in a sub-regional finance house, with some shares offered to citizens and workers. Farmers also, after Tomas, need to regionalise our agriculture and agribusiness. Let me make a couple of illustrative points. WINFRESH/WIBDECO is an agribusiness or food trade company from our sub-region – SVG, St. Lucia and Dominica own it through the governments. Let us “buy it back” from them. They did not pay one red cent for it, we did.

WINFA-Fair-trade in the Windward Islands own a farm and food processing plant here in SVG. It is a regional agribusiness venture. We must go further. It woke me up to hear Mr. John Leung, a Canadian Chinese businessman say “I will start a supermarket that will never be short. I will import from the United States and China, because right now I have to import from Canada and the U.S to get things for the restaurant”.

A sub-regional agriculture in the Windward Islands is a vision for a project that we must cultivate. Policy makers will chatter forever about their CSME, proceed with their CVQ, and leave agriculture behind. After Tomas, we must begin to move.

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