Letters & Opinion

Can The Glory Days Return?

Image of John Peters
By John Peters

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.

6 Comments

  1. Apart from Dr Edmunds all of the elders mentioned by you live in Saint Lucia and at least 2 are closely aligned to the SLP. It is not likely that our supermarkets will always be stocked with locally produced food and fruit even in the best of circumstances. Demand from the tourism sector will always outstrip other local demand.

    The agriculture sector has been analyzed ad infinitum. There ought to be no uncertainty what needs to be done. I doubt very much if the elders can add anything new. On the supply side we know the workforce in agriculture is aging and is not being replaced by young blood. In that respect we need a more surgical approach. We should target the young members of farmer-families who are in the sector and give them the necessary support. Secondly we need to accelerate plans to provide pooled insurance to farmers against risks like natural hazards, commodity price fluctuations and pests. Thirdly we need to create a credit mechanism that allows farmers to be paid much earlier than the standard 90 days. Fourthly we need to rezone and protect our best lands and change our approach to land use classification. With green house technology farming can be done anywhere.

  2. Good stuff again, Mr Peters. Sherlock, your number 4 is the number 1 I always list. Without proper zoning of land there can be little meaningful development outside a few small holdings. There needs to be some sort of economies of scale and specialising. A few things here and there won’t cut it. Also at the minute everyone who sits on a piece of land thinks it can be sold for housing or something. Some people will need to realise that their land will only be allowed to do certain things. We need land for farming, housing, business, leisure and most important – nature’s habitat. When it was all bananas that actually contributed hugely to devastating landslides. A lot of the rain on the island comes from the natural vegetation, of which there needs to be a critical mass. Plus as a side benefit of zoning, it will make it easier to concentrate housing infrastructure for waste and water.

    Back to the actual farming bit – right now there needs to be some incentives on the demand and supply side. Some form of credit mechanism as you mentioned, would be a boost and any tax breaks on both sides. Greater focus on looking at high end exports such as the cocoa and other processing parts of the value chain (chocolate bars etc) would be good.

    Kids need to be encouraged to see it as a viable career. The problem is it only appeals to a certain type of person. It takes character and a real love of nature to do it. The larceny issue is a continual deterrent though and must be tackled.

    In addition, there needs to be more of an education of food in general; it is not something to have just to fill you up, it is there to be enjoyed. Develop a love of cooking, make them do it at school. Compared to many countries which have the similar natural ingredients available, there is not the same appreciation of good food. My heart sinks when I see progress defined as a new fast food outlet opening. Progress is growing and cooking your own stuff.

  3. When the wind is blowing….

    Sometimes my
    fantasy appears
    in the yellow
    dream of a light
    pearl and so,
    while a noble
    intention falls
    upon my memory,
    I see your desire
    and the little
    purpose.

    Francesco Sinibaldi

  4. To be successful in agriculture, one needs education, collaboration and knowledge of distribution. Above all had work.

  5. Mr. John Peters: you’ve done it again, a great article. Now for me, it’s construction. What are your views or opinion for a design and transformation for the old Fire Station at the Northern Wharf. I would really appreciate your opinion on that.

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