Letters & Opinion

Agriculture on the Move: Government Moves the ‘Engine.’

Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E
By Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E

Agriculture is now seriously on the move in St. Lucia and government is firmly in the driver’s seat moving the engine.

When I attended Primary School, Agriculture was the mainstay of the economy in St. Lucia. I’m being honest when I say Agriculture then, was considered the bastard of the economy. Agriculture was not being given the prominence which it deserved at the time. And I’m delighted for the opportunity to share these thoughts with you.

I taught Agricultural Science at the Marchand Combined School and the Rock Hall Senior Primary School for close to three decades. And most of the time it was chalk and talk, with just a few experiments being done with the students. There were no tools or implements when I taught the subject at the Marchand Combined School. Fortunately, there were a few tools at the Rock Hall Primary School. But in both schools the Principal had to give me the money to buy seeds and planting, or I  had to find the money myself to buy the seeds.

At the Marchand Combined School there was a plot  of land just a stone-throw away from the school. But the vegetables were available to anyone who scaled the fence which was adjacent to the school. The school never had time to reap ‘the fruits of the students’ labour.’ It really was a free for all.

There was an officer from the Ministry of Agriculture who had responsibility for Agriculture in the schools. However, we saw him only once for the school year. If we were lucky, we would get two visits. This is true and frank talk!

I hasten to inform you that when I attended the then St. Lucia Teachers’ College, I pursued a course in Agriculture at the Union School of Agriculture. It was a ‘cross faculty’ course. Indeed, every student had to do at least one cross faculty course.

The Union School of Agriculture had some well trained and excellent tutors from whom I learnt quite a lot. I still remember the lecturers: Mr. Calixte George lectured on the planting of vegetables, Mr. Fontenelle lectured on Animal Husbandry, and Mr. Mitchel lectured on the Planting of bananas I can’t recall their first names at this time. But they prepared teachers of Agriculture adequately to pass on the knowledge and skills to the students.

At that time, bananas were referred to as the “green gold”, and the crop brought in a sizable amount of income both to the government and the banana farmers. Perhaps because the crop brought in so much money that no one bothered to pay attention to the teaching of Agricultural Science in schools.

But bananas came to an all-time low, losing all of the ‘lustre’ that it possessed. Without any doubt, government had to make a paradigm shift from bananas to Tourism. Indeed, Tourism is now the ‘bread  basket’ of St. Lucia.

But we know very well that Tourism is a fickle industry. Our good fortunes can change with any bad publicity ‘hitting the airwaves.’ So we have to tread carefully.

Indeed, I am very pleased with the information coming out of the government circles.

Thursday night, in the news, I heard of the strong revival in marketing of produce from St. Lucia. Specifically, the St. Lucia Marketing Board will receive a strong revival. The Ministries of Trade, Agriculture and Education will collaborate to bring new life to the St. Lucia Marketing Board.

Ms. Sunita Daniel of the Ministry of Trade, someone who has immense knowledge and experience in Trading Agricultural Products along with Ms. Keithleen Caroo, a very young and energetic woman who has brought a new focus on Women in Agriculture, will be part of a ‘High Breed’ committee which would ‘lead the charge.’

Women have played a very dynamic role in Agriculture in St. Lucia. During the time that I was Principal of the Roseau Combined    School, I could see from my office, scores of women in the banana fields from early morning until late afternoon. I could tell because many of the women had children attending the Roseau Combined School.

The committee which I referred to earlier, will work assiduously to improve export of Agricultural products from farmers in St. Lucia, which they well deserve. I have every reason to believe that the committee will bring prestige to the St. Lucia Board and farmers in our country.

When I go to the major supermarkets in St. Lucia, I come very close to tears when I see so many varieties of vegetables which are imported into St. Lucia. I see tomatoes; yes tomatoes, lettuce, sweet pepper, even root crops like beet, ginger and many others being imported into St. Lucia. And as a teacher of Agriculture, I know that we can do a lot better.

For many years, we have been hearing the slogan: “ Eat what you grow and grow what you eat.” But to be frank, we have not been serious about that slogan!

Minister for Agriculture, Hon. Alfred Prospere, has been exerting a lot of effort into his portfolio (Agriculture), making finance available to our struggling farmers, making fertilizer easily accessible to them and trying hard to improve the production in agriculture through mechanization or new technologies in Agriculture. He has also earmarked Education and Training as part of the package in Agriculture. And as an Adult Educator myself, I welcome any programme to educate adults.

I wish to point out here, that the Taiwanese government is providing strong support to the St. Lucia Agricultural programme. Taiwanese Ambassador Peter Chen is assisting the Ministry of Agriculture with the Seven Crops Programme in St. Lucia. The Taiwanese Technical Mission is currently on island providing the knowledge and skills required to enhance our agricultural programme. In addition, the mission is providing both seeds and seedlings to the Ministry of Agriculture to boost its programmes.

In closing, I wish to indicate that it is my desire to see a strong revival in the schools Agricultural Programme. We say that our young people do not want to move into agriculture as an occupation. But we must make Agriculture attractive to excite the young people in St. Lucia.

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