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Agriculture and Sustainable Development in SVG

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Fri, Jul 20. 2012

Editor: The Prime Minister made it clear, at the opening ceremony for the tissue culture laboratory in Orange Hill on June 19, that the state has a role to play in addressing agriculture and its linkages to sustainable development. We should strive to establish self-sustaining and economical agri-businesses and thereby set agriculture on its own two feet and overcome the myth that agriculture must be subsidized.{{more}} Dr Gonsalves stressed that while the government is prepared to invest financial and other resources in agriculture, it would not promote “welfareism in agriculture,” which is a situation where farmers expect Cabinet to solve all of their problems “with money” or equivalents that may not even be used for the intended purposes. The PM would therefore like the technical assistance and fertilizers given to banana farmers to be regarded as an investment and not as social welfare payments to recipients who may decide to sell the fertilizer and not use it for production. We were also reminded of the multi-million dollar bailouts of the now defunct Banana Growers Association and there was a suggestion that bailout money may have been used to pay for private holidays, house extensions and even “skettel” cars.

While we are thinking about linking agriculture to sustainable development, let’s bear in mind what an intellectual historian said. Silvio Torres-Saillant told us, through his book An Intellectual History of the Caribbean, that the current political configuration of the global economy has allowed the great capitalist powers to wield authority over the planet and to exacerbate the dependent conditions of regions like the Caribbean to the point where our societies today have a severely reduced possibility of devising strategies of our own to pursue the sort of development that is necessary.

Developing countries were forced to eliminate agricultural subsidies when the annual subsidies enjoyed by rich American farmers, which had already amounted to billions of dollars, were being doubled. Washington broke its promises and implemented programmes that violated international trade law and hurt our farmers, while they complained about the “preferential treatment” that we were receiving from the United Kingdom. We move against welfareism in rural agriculture when corporate welfare is sustained in the USA where the safety net for wealthy corporations was extended and strengthened over several decades, while social protections for ordinary individuals and vulnerable business enterprises were weakened. The big shot farmers are more interested in a fleet of private jets than in a mere “skettel” car.

Although America advocated trade liberalisation and actually reduced its tariffs in recent decades, a wide range of non-tariff barriers protect US firms and farms. The economic colonialists said that we should reduce trade barriers and facilitate free trade, so that foreign goods may more easily enter our markets (to the detriment of local industry), but suspiciously advocated devaluation as an acceptable form of imposing trade restrictions.

How do we compete against the heavily subsidized and protected agricultural operations in America and Europe that have ready access to our markets? What do we say to Vincentian families that prefer to buy imported goods, fruits or chicken parts for example, and not support what they see as more expensive local products? And when we consider that less than 2% of the American labour force produces enough food for consumption in the USA and for export, what is the long term employment potential of our local agriculture industry anyway? We will not come good in agriculture by chance, or as a result of Western generosity, but we will come good.

R. T. Luke V. Browne

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