This week I met a good friend of mine, Kerde Severin, whom I had not seen for quite some time. We bumped into each other at the Fruit and Vegetable section of the supermarket and the conversation started on our agricultural sector. Kerde was looking for some fruits and I also was desirous of having a healthy lunch. I recounted to him my frustration in getting local fruits and vegetables at the supermarket. There are times when the only tomatoes on the shelves are imported, and the only watermelon is imported, and the only pineapples are imported, and the only pumpkin is imported and there are no cucumbers and peppers.
I have great difficulty buying a slice of imported watermelon, and the few times I have done so out of pure desperation to eat a fruit that I enjoy, have left me with such guilt that the sensation on the taste buds dissipates with the internal turmoil. I shared with him that I understood that Trinidad was growing broccoli and then Kerde took me on a journey along the shelves showing me all the imported vegetables that can be grown in Saint Lucia.
Before I left, he shared his early days of development in agriculture and the tremendous impact men like Frankie Leonce, Cyril Matthew and Calixte George had on the agricultural sector in St Lucia. He made special mention of Calixte George and though I have great respect for Mr. Calixte George, my respect for his tremendous contribution to the development of agriculture grew exponentially. I remember Mr. Calixte George every time I use my cell phone, and I recall the days when you paid for incoming calls, his contribution to the Telecommunications sector in Saint Lucia is legendary and one hopes he is indeed knighted soon for this and more so his work in agriculture.
Saint Lucia stands out as a nation that has produced some of the finest minds in the field of agriculture, and it was no accident that we were the major producer of bananas in the OECS. When KerdeSeverin shared the extensive research work done in the period from the glorious decades of 1960 -1990, you are left stunned that our agricultural sector is where it is now.
I am suggesting that the Minister of Agriculture puts together a GROUPING OF ELDERS in the agricultural sector to ensure that this precious resource is captured. We are fortunate that many of these men are still around and are committed Saint Lucians. I am more aware of the icons of engineering in Saint Lucia, but certainly I am aware of the contributions of Calixte George, Frankie Leonce, Cyril Matthews, Julius Polius, David Demacque, KerdeSeverin, Ronnie Pilgrim, Dr. Edmunds, and the host of others still residing here and overseas.
It is a shame that a nation that has produced such an abundance of talent in the field of agriculture is still importing watermelons and pineapples. Agriculture at this point in our history needs more support. I believe we have a committed Minister of Agriculture, who will be receptive to the voices of these Elders. Collectively as a nation we must recognize that the purchase of a local watermelon is support to the local economy. The reduction of our food import bill has to be now viewed as a national security matter.
We should not be in a position where inflation is being driven by food prices. We must begin to see the immense potential for employment creation that exists within the agricultural sector. We have to create an environment that allows a top student from St. Mary’s College to begin to see agriculture as a course for future studies. If you go right now and speak to the top 50 students in St Mary’s College or St Joseph’s Convent, I am sure not one of these students will say I want to pursue studies in agriculture. We have to get our best minds as occurred in the 1950’s and 1960’s to begin to see agriculture as a future career. Agriculture has to be seen as a sector that can create long term sustainable employment.
We have historically seen how the banana industry provided transformation of our rural communities. Agriculture must be embraced for its societal equalization effect.
As a nation we have to get Food Production right and thus I maintain that the significant human resource we have in the field of agriculture must be harnessed, the Assembly of Elders is thus viewed as a vehicle to jumpstarting the process. Yes, the glory days of agriculture can return.