Letters & Opinion

Agriculture: No Escaping It

By Peter Josie
By Peter Josie

I have been persuaded to write this piece to correct any lingering misconceptions about my role as Minister for Agriculture in Saint Lucia (1979 to 1982), and as Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture with Ira d’Auvergne, (1995 to 1997). It is intended also, to emphasize the policy of the Ministry of Agriculture during the earlier period and how it was informed by the thinking of the Saint Lucia Forum (1970-1973).

The Forum was a discussion group dedicated to the social and economic development of Saint Lucia, through dialogue and education with the populace. Unfortunately, the group came under tremendous pressure from frightened politicians, and it later disbanded. It included certain senior civil servants, had been aware of the ideas of Arthur Lewis for agriculture development in the British Colonial Empire. His writings had infused a new vision of a new agriculture which was to be founded on education and solid scientific principles.

The following is a brief summary of Arthur Lewis before he became known for his pioneering work on economic, development, taken from his Collected Papers, (1941-1988). ‘The first element for a programme for peasant agriculture must obviously be education. Nothing can be done unless the farmers can be brought to accept new ideas – new methods, new tools, new breeds, new social groupings. There is not a single colony in the whole British Colonial Empire with the exception of Jamaica that has an Agriculture Extension Service anywhere nearly adequate to the job; indeed many of the largest colonies can hardly be said to possess such a service at all.’

Lewis then added: ‘If new knowledge is to reach all the villages there should be something like one agriculture officer to every thousand farmers. Obviously that is impossible if such men are to be trained university scientists. In Nigeria it would require up to 5000 (five thousand) men. But university men are neither necessary nor useful at this job. In Jamaica it is done by local men given a two-year training in practical agriculture. All the colonies need a vast multiplication of agricultural assistants, with this sort of training to work among the peasants.’

The British Colonial Government had obviously paid close attention to the work of the great economist and by the time I became a Minister of the Government of Saint Lucia his suggestion for more trained agricultural assistants had long been implemented. What was then needed was to define a broader vision for proper land use based on acceptable scientific protocols for various crops and animals, including inland fisheries and a review of the process of educating farmers.

As Minister for Agriculture, Lands, Forestry and Fisheries in Saint Lucia I first re-visited a land use map which Calixte George (Senior Research Officer) and I (agronomist) had prepared when we both worked in the Ministry of Agriculture and Tourism. As Minister, I invited Calixte to review the earlier map with a view to modernizing it to demarcate forest reserves, zones allocated to permanent crops (perennials), and that which was to be allocated to short term crops, (annuals), inland fish development and other. It was hoped that such a map would form the template for future agriculture development on the island.

To further consolidate the national land use policy I sought and received support from Prime Minister Allan Louisy to institute a team of competent Caribbean economists and agriculturists to help consolidate the vision and policy for agriculture by developing a comprehensive Land Registration and Titling Programme (LRTP), for the island. The LRTP was the first part of a larger land utilization policy in which scattered family lands and government-owned lands were to be rationally consolidated and a Land Bank established to help facilitate that process. The purpose of that approach was to create the conditions for more rapid agriculture diversification and increased production of a variety of crops and animals. Bananas had by then taken such a strong grip on the psyche of local farmers that the word ‘diversification’ had become an anathema and a humbug.

We succeeded in our determination to demonstrate the practical aspect of our land rationalization and development policy by defying the common wisdom that efficient agriculture production needed large mechanized acreages and highfalutin management, in order to be profitable. We negotiated the purchase of the Cul-de-Sac, Roseau and Dennery banana valleys from their respective owners and subdivided these into ten acre farms for sale to interested farmers. Within two years average banana production on these estates shot from seven tons per acre to 25-30 tons per acre on the ten acre farms. These farmers were disposed to listening and following advice from trained agricultural assistants and banana field officers.

This ‘miraculous’ transformation and outstanding success of the LRTP was common knowledge which some opponents later grudgingly acknowledged. The LRTP was so well received that, following the early demise of the Labour Government (1982), and the return of the Compton led UWP to office, the LRTP continued full steam. That spoke well of Compton even though he later bulked at implementing the full vision of land reformation, consolidation and the establishment of a Land Bank to meaningfully transform agriculture on the island.

There is no escaping the fact that much more needs to be done if Saint Lucia is to achieve the far sighted recommendations of Arthur Lewis. The continuing education of farmers, training agricultural assistants, introducing new methods of production, new breeds of animals and plants, new tools (specially modified machinery for small farms), new social groupings (new co-ops and community based associations), never end. The latter would be empowered to select suitable providers for farm inputs of farming communities, aided by government legislation. Such arrangements and organizations would certainly serve and assist farmers in matters such as fertilizer imports and pest and disease control as needed.

When examined dispassionately efforts at producing agriculture goods and services at a consistently high quality on the island is still far off. Those who shared the vision of Sir Arthur Lewis for a role for proper scientific agriculture built on the foundation of education had been rudely interrupted. It was a dream which only men of vision and purpose dared to dream. Politics was to be used as a means of lifting their fellows and citizens and not for self-serving secretive deals for personal gain, as we see today.

There appears reluctance by leading politicians more interested in canvassing the pockets of rich foreigners of doubtful character, than helping needy farmers. But history has taught that ‘only the people can save the people.’ Only the well informed and properly educated citizenry that is motivated can accomplish the goal of optimum agriculture production, marketing and processing.

If this island is to hold its own within an association of Caribbean states, it must revisit and build upon the work that was planned and executed at the time when the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Fisheries and Forestry in Saint Lucia, demonstrated a thoughtful vision. There is no escaping agriculture in any future development plan. Without a sustainable plan of production to feed its people, its visitors (tourists) and for export, Saint Lucia is likely to miss the development train. Nature abhors a vacuum and if we fail to fully develop agriculture, others will grab the opportunities we neglect at our peril. There is no escaping agriculture.


  1. PETE/
    This was informative with a generous dose of objectivity. You could have been more creative with your clarion call for a custom fitted framework of agricultural resurgence, instead of that subjective dagger you point maliciously at SLP.
    You remained on the fringes of a pertinent topic of national sustainability (laureate and bureaucracy), rather than delving deeply into the real challenge of your topic – the reorganization of the peasantry into a more viable / effective human resource cadre.
    But then you will need to discuss SOCIALISM- the core impetus -if not mandate of The Forum.
    Was it Guyana’ Forbes Burnham who declared that Political independence for Caribbean states is MEANINGLESS without real ECONOMIC independence?

  2. Most Forum mentors would have known that THE YOKE of Central Bank Capitalism could not spark let alone maintain any semblance of economic independence for this Caribbean pebble.
    The peasantry was coming off the stupor of Green Gold euphoria and neither The Forum, WINBAN allied with Minister Josie could bring them down to a smooth, safe & secure landing.
    You mentioned the 10 acre parceling of the 3 great agricultural valleys , yet no significant details about its process:
    – Did it benefit the petite boujoure economic class over that of the real peasantry.
    -Were these parcels outright sales or some kind of MODIFIED Lease in which the government controls usage permits and title succession.
    – What are the credentials to merit a sale to a potential buyer.
    – The Israeli agricultural revolution gave rise to its Kibbutz land use reform that profited Jewish peasants at the expense of indigenous Palestinians.
    It is patently hypocritical to acknowledge that the socialist ideals of the FORUM was the way to go in order to achieve the requisite internalization of new / required farming skills by the peasantry while promoting a well bred CAPITALIST Pirate who serves the austere aims of the Rothchild central banking network + IMF & World Bank impingements of our national psyche
    ( how come you never parlayed your political largesse and intel in agronomy into a DOCTORATE? Cornell University , NY and Penn State U have had outstanding programs especially in the 1980’s)
    Were you too busy feasting at the trough in the wake of the political demise wherein you abandoned leadership principles to find the glitter at camp Flambeau?
    I believe that the path to heaven is strewn with peasant refugees while the paved highway to hell is littered with stretch limos filled with………you guessed rightly.

  3. Pete
    LET’S play armchair quarterback (hindsight).
    The downturn in SLP left you all alone nearest the HELM
    So you felt …………………………………………………………………….
    BUT before your decision to switch loyalties
    -perhaps take the helm of PARTY LEADER not as Chas did but it was yours just for being the last man standing-
    -Then rebuild from the ground up -begin with you.
    Turn your agronomy portfolio vitae into a doctorate in Agriculture- you made enough cas by then to put up.
    -Within this extended sabbatical you coud still lead the party from long distance as ou
    build up on your elected party in opposition
    In one election cycle following what you label as “demise”-
    you would have earned your doctorate using it to reach the peasantry in very concrete ways.
    You would bring the very innovations you spoke of directly to the peasantry albeit along the framework of Le FORUM socialism.

  4. Pete/
    If, as you elucidated in your “disenchantment” book, had chosen Puerto Rico instead of “Party Like its 1999” Trinidad for University study;
    Cornell or Penn State Agricultural advanced studies would have been familiarized.
    So we must return to that watershed event of unplanned impregnation that derailed you and your father’s trajectory for nobler socio-economic status .
    Imagine building the party from the ground up -utilizing some of the salient visionaries of Le Forum.
    Imagine revising/modifying the island’s alignment with its Capitalist yoke-
    in a far more refined framework than that of Grenada’s exercise with self sufficient socialism.
    Agricultural minister is small consolation for the loftier mission conducted by Odlum ey al.
    You should have carried that baton-as party leader.
    Instead of Dr Anthony being a celebrated offshoot of your pioneering model…….
    .you castigate all his efforts to distance We the People from the neocolonial yoke of Imperial Europe and its allies.
    No wonder you drink so deliriously…….to numb the guilt & shame- of what should have been.
    Good grief!!!!
    Go ahead Pete take the $$$$MOOOLAH$$$ and run!

  5. Pete/
    Granted the right blend of Capitalism & Socialism within the democratic milieu is as elusive as that of alchemists trying to formulate gold.
    Nevertheless, it is the journey in trying to find the right formula that matters.
    I give you Iceland for examination.
    An island nation with a good blend of Fisheries and tourism industries . Additionally, their homogenous racial composition spared them of all the vexations of a multiracial society.
    They were doing fine and with a socialist styled health and education system ranking higher than the US.
    Then the politicians got GREEDY enticed by the Wall Street vultures.
    The rest is recent / current history.
    We can learn from this debacle ….oui!

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