Letters & Opinion

The Forum And New Agriculture

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By Peter Josie
By Peter Josie

AFTER Saint Lucia gained independence from Britain in February 1979 it established diplomatic relations with a number of countries including the Republic of China (ROC) Taiwan. The Government of Saint Lucia retained that relationship with (ROC) Taiwan from 1979 to 1997. Several changes in government which included five Prime Ministers – Compton, Louisy, Cenac, Pilgrim, Compton, Lewis, had not changed the arrangements. It was only after new Labour came to office in 1997, that diplomatic relations were switched from (ROC) Taiwan to the Peoples Republic of China, (Beijing).

Word soon got out from certain ministers that the new and inexperienced Prime Minster (Anthony) was ambushed by his more experienced Foreign Minister (George Odlum) at their first cabinet meeting. It claimed that Anthony was ‘played’ into switching from Taiwan to Beijing. Anthony was reported ‘mad-as-hell’ after the fact but he was powerless against the Odlum gaffe. Later, an invitation to Beijing and the handsome cheque which Odlum told me he received on behalf of the SLP seemed to have softened matters temporarily. Later when things soured again Anthony referred to Odlum as ‘the great Satan!’ Remember?

With the return of Sir John Compton as Prime Minister in 2006, diplomatic relations with (ROC), Taiwan were re-established. By 2007, Compton had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government of ROC (Taiwan) for assistance in agriculture development. Interestingly, after the demise of Compton the SLP was returned to power in 2011 and, surprise! Surprise! maintained diplomatic relations with (ROC), Taiwan.

Since 2007 the Government of Taiwan has had agriculture specialists stationed in Saint Lucia. They have helped modernize and develop Union Agricultural Station from the decadence it had fallen under new Labour.

Today, these agriculture specialists work closely with local agriculture officers from the eight extension regions in Saint Lucia. Through these officers the Taiwan technical staff interfaces with selected farmers who are introduced to new seeds and new methods of growing a number of selected fruits and vegetables. To consolidate the successful transfer of technology and to facilitate learning, the Taiwan specialists hold at least one ‘in-field-training’ demonstration each year for 30 to 40 farmers in each extension region.

Three demonstration plots have been established in regions 3, 4, and 5. One specialist is based in the south of Saint Lucia and works on a daily basis with farmers and officers in these regions. Another specialist is based in the north at Union Station and works with extension officers regions 1, 2, 7, and 8. By this approach, around 300 farmers have achieved increases in crop yields. Such training has also helped identify 15 to 20 farmers in each region with the potential to make a quantum leap in agri-business. These core farmers are closely monitored and supervised by Taiwan specialists.

It is at this point that the ideas of the St. Lucia Forum, or indeed that of a wise government, kick in to secure proper marketing, banking and procurement of inputs for its farmers. Health insurance and social security were also envisaged for the more progressive and hard working farmers. It is interesting revelations that those who have not made time to dream and to discuss ideas that matter to the people find themselves politically challenged and incapable of managing the peoples’ affairs. It does not matter how many university degrees such politicians have pinned-up. Such degrees without a solid moral foundation and strict parental guidance tend to have a deleterious effect on a country, its farmers and its workers.

It was to help finance competent farmers, artisans and fishermen who were willing to work hard in order to achieve a trajectory of progress that the Forum envisaged a division between commercial and development banking. Under a serious and visionary government only those farmers who had demonstrated competence and an ability to learn and produce optimally would be offered loans from the Development Bank.

Talk on the ground is that the shares in the Bank of Saint Lucia (BOSL) which are now held by the National Insurance Corporation are to be sold to a newly rebranded Trinidad and Tobago outfit which has its eyes on becoming the new imperial master in Saint Lucia and the Eastern Caribbean. The members of the St. Lucia Forum such as George Odlum, Calixte George, Eldon Mathurin, Hilford Deterville, Primrose Bledman, Peter Josie and others had envisioned (and established for the benefit of the people of Saint Lucia) and National Commercial Bank. No patriotic Saint Lucian would agree to the sale of their bank!

I am proud to say that I was part of the Government of Saint Lucia 1979, (after independence), to have strongly advocated and supported Prime Minister Allan Louisy in establishing the National Commercial Bank of Saint Lucia. That event was a small part of the new and revolutionary thinking the St. Lucia Forum. The Forum thinking built upon the foundation left by George F. L. Charles and John Compton. It was our desire to make Saint Lucia the leading light in the entire Caribbean.

It is therefore regrettable that later political novices (and their lost advisers) agreed to sell that bank to outsiders. It is high time the people of Saint Lucia identify who sold their bank. The people should then flog these jokers’ on Derek Walcott square as Odlum and Velon John had once threatened. On this 36th anniversary of independence the people must learn again to focus on their financial business and the larger picture of owning a bank in order to determine their economic and social destinies. Controlling the commanding heights of the economy was the central theme of the Forum’s dream.

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